Thursday, October 06, 2011

What's Life After Jobs?

(Credit: Jonathan Mak from Hong Kong)
The talk of the town since yesterday has been the death of Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder of Apple Computer. He was 56. Almost immediately, the names of Jobs and Apple easily top the list of searches, twitter, news media reports, and conversations worldwide. Such is the impact of Steve Jobs. Such is the influence of what he has done through Apple Computer. The symbols of his influence are everywhere. Apple products are seen at coffee shops where people are kept busy on their Macbook laptops. At the bus-stops, people listen to their iPods or iPhones. At airports and public squares, one can see people swiping their glass screens on their iPads. On the Internet, people change their profile pictures on their Facebook to reflect anything Apple. Websites like Google honour Jobs with a link to the Apple site. Of course, the company Jobs founded turn their home page into an official obituary.
For many Apple enthusiasts, they will feel like they have lost a lot more than simply a technological genius. They have lost a leader, a visionary, and a hero. Someone who enables one to 'think different.'

Personally, I am fascinated with the wide outpouring of emotions all over the world. Why is the world so captivated by one man? Even after Jobs retire a few months ago, the Internet was buzzing with commentaries and conversations about what life will be like without Steve Jobs. That day has come. Yesterday. Today marks a new day of a post-Steve Jobs era.

Andy Crouch's reflections on culture and how Jobs has influenced the world bring home some poignant points to ponder. Crouch cautions the public about the 'health of the culture.' He reminds us that technology is not the domain of any one person, but a community. He reminds us that Apple succeeds within a backdrop of multiple failures in the engines of the world.

Personally, I believe Apple the company, and Steve Jobs the person, and all those great inventions form a kind of escapism for many people. With all respect to Jobs and what he has done, the fault is not Jobs, but the nature of the world. I sense three fundamental needs in people. People need hope. People need fun. People need a sense of purpose. People cry, talk about, and are shocked simply because they seem to have lost a sense of all three. Instantly.

A) End of Three Hopes

Firstly, in Apple/Steven Jobs, people get a sense of hope when things coming out from the Cupertino outfit seems to do something better and better each time. It seems to be able to predict and meet the rising demands and expectations of people. Not only that, it often exceeds even the wildest expectations. Just think of the iPod and the iPad. They become bestsellers in their own categories dominating the market for portable MP3s, the Walkmans and many entry level laptops. People look to Apple/Jobs to give them a better hope with each product announcement. This is why the latest iPhone 4S launch (without Jobs) becomes a whimper due to the hyped up expectations of Apple offerings.

Secondly, people need fun. At the heart of every person, people are fun-loving. Even the most stoic facade do not replace the desire in people to be a child again. With great creativity, attractive designs, and ease of use that any child can operate, Apple products are insanely delightful to use, or to play with. If boring and laborious work can be injected with play and fun, it makes going through the work week a much better process. This is especially when the world is increasingly becoming paranoid over security matters, terrorism, and financial trouble. Apple/Jobs makes play relatively fun and safe.

Thirdly, people need a sense of purpose. As Apple/Jobs continue to come up with out-of-this-world innovations and creative products, people lap up whatever the computer company comes up with. Isn't it a cultic sense of escaping from the real world with the 'latest-and-greatest' gadgetry from the whiz boys? Apple/Jobs may have been a symbol of hope for many. Unfortunately, as Crouch rightly observes, Jobs's gospel is an empty one. He ends his reflection in a somber mood.

"Steve Jobs’s gospel is, in the end, a set of beautifully polished empty promises. But I look on my secular neighbors, millions of them, like sheep without a shepherd, who no longer believe in anything they cannot see, and I cannot help feeling compassion for them, and something like fear. When, not if, Steve Jobs departs the stage, will there be anyone left who can convince them to hope?" (Andy Crouch, A World Without Jobs)
B) Re-Entering the True Hope

Crouch's article was written a few months ago when Jobs stepped down due to poor health. He talks about his concern with the 'health of a culture.' Now with Jobs's death, does that imply a 'death' of a culture? No. Far from it. So what's life after Jobs?  I believe it is firstly a removal of the false cloak that we have unwittingly put in front of our faces. It is time to remove that cloak. Unveil our true selves. Secondly, admit that we need true hope. We need healthy perspectives. We need purpose. All of these, no human institution, no technological innovations, and no impressive idea can ever fill. For the emptiness of the human heart cannot be filled with things of this world. It can only be filled by someone that is not from this world. Finally, embrace the Hope of the world. Those of you who know Christ understands where I am coming from.

Perhaps, one of the best emotions that we can ever have is not to criticize or to become overly sad. We can give thanks for the many good years Apple/Jobs has given the world. With this, I agree with Andy Crouch's tribute in his latest article that demonstrates lots of grace. Just 2 words suffice: "Thank you." This is not only the most Christian thing to do, it is also most human.



Sze Zeng said...

A good & balanced reflection on the contemporary public devotion towards this man. I'm puzzled over people who "mourn" and "miss" him as though he is their relative or close friend. All because they use the products he sold them.

Conrade Yap said...

@Sze Zeng,

Thank you for your kind remarks. I am also puzzled like you say why people 'mourn and miss' him. I am less inclined to believe it is due to his products. While the products do have a special appeal, what is more compelling is the person producing the products. More than that, Jobs is an embodiment of a secular version of good news, where people find glimpses of salvation in the iGadgets. This is more so as people find the real world more disappointing and more broken. Like Jane McGonigal's thesis that people gravitate toward video games in the virtual world, simply because REALITY IS BROKEN. In the virtual world, they find they can actually do some FIXING. I believe people are so fond of Jobs is because of Jobs due to 2 things. First, Jobs is able to supply a continuous flow of things to appease the I-Me-Myself culture. Second, reality sucks. Reality is terrible. At least Apple products are reliable, easy to use, and of really good quality.


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