Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Loss of Steven Jobs...and Our Sense of a Common Good

Kevin Kelly's blog post, 'The Soul of Apple', explains something I've been trying to put my finger on for a while.

He points out an irony most of us have missed...

"This week something unusual happened. At the very same time that tens of thousands of ordinary citizens were camping out in New York, Washington, and Seattle to protest corporate greed, and the capitalistic wealth of the very rich, a similar number of ordinary citizens were depositing flowers and spiritual offerings at the corporate stores of the wealthiest company in the world (with earnings larger than most countries), in memory of one of the richest people in the world, the late Steve Jobs. Why would a billionaire elicit such affection and love during this moment of fierce dissatisfaction with global capitalism?"

Exactly, 'why'?

In all of the complaints (well, ongoing monotonous whines) about 'class warfare' and 'soak the rich' and 'hatred of the rich', Steve Jobs death has evoked outpouring of emotion reserved for precious few. There were those of us who were stunned, in a haunting sort of way, as if someone we actually knew and had recently spoken to had died. And Jobs was rich - 'insanely' rich. 

Steven Jobs was worth an estimated $5 billion. Yet no one picketed his house. No protesters were outside of Apple headquarters. As far as I know, no one called him names. That company, which Jobs founded, from which he was fired and to which he came back, is worth an estimated $300 billion. But no one talks about Apple's culture of corruption, or uses Apple as an example of why capitalism needs to be overhauled or abolished. 


But Kelly's post answers the question 'why', at least to my satisfaction. 

Steve Jobs and Apple are an example of what is right about capitalism. People were moved because, however he did it, Jobs provided us with something which made many of our lives better...all over the world. The iPhone, the iPad, the iPod, the MacPro and the iTune Store, have all become staples of a well connected life. Apple and Jobs essentially rendered every other producer of computer technology, whether lap top, desk top, smart phone or tablet, a variation of its theme. We all understand instinctively how much better we think our lives are because of Jobs' work. We made him rich beyond our wildest dreams and when he died last week, it was clear that we didn't begrudge him a penny. Jobs was the quintessential corporate citizen in the classic sense: he used his product to enhance the well being of his fellow man. 

Jobs didn't flaunt his wealth. I'm sure there was a corporate jet somewhere. Perhaps there was more than one home. But his lack of ostentation made us think of him as accessible. And we waited breathlessly for each new iteration of his creative genius. I remember when I couldn't wait to upgrade my iPhone 3G to the 3GS and within weeks the iPhone 4 was introduced (I won't make that mistake this time). Somehow what the phone could do was made to feel almost indispensable. The iPad, allowed us to work, communicate, create or recreate virtually anywhere, nearly replacing the lap top. The computer in all of its versions was really personal, and Jobs was responsible. 

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Jobs, Apple or its products are perfect. But everyone who is able to use a computer or a smart phone knows why he or she thinks that it benefits them. It's an answer they hold in their hand and can point to and no matter what anyone thinks of the cost, the owner doesn't feel ripped off. 

What does that have to do with the thousands occupying Wall Street? And other government and financial centers? 

They are protesting a system that, by and large, doesn't make them feel like...well, like Apple does. The economy collapsed. It was, no matter what anyone else says, due to greed. It wasn't the greed of poor people. It was the greed of rich people, playing on the greed of people who wanted to be rich. There were people who concocted a 'Ponzi scheme' if you will. Where mortgages were bundled, broken up, sold off, bet on and billions made by those who did the buying and selling. Those who bought the houses, did so with tricked up mortgages. People were encouraged to buy more home (or homes) than they could afford. The people who were supposed to be watching, weren't. The people who should have known better, didn't or didn't care. Homes were lost. And then jobs. Credit tightened. Loans dried up. The banks which made and bought and sold those mortgages were in trouble. The banks got bailed out; first by Bush, then by Obama. And now that recession is over, the country sits on mountains of debt. But the banks sit on mountains of cash. So do corporations. Banks won't lend. Companies won't hire, because they are...uncertain.

The people who are protesting are also uncertain. Uncertain about where they can find jobs. Or uncertain about student loans. Uncertain about the value of any education at all. Uncertain as to whether or not they can buy or keep a house. Uncertain about the money they have in the bank. They are the ones who have been told time and time again, that the uncertainty of the government, of the banks, of the corporations trumps their uncertainty. Banks have to be 'certain' the loan will be repaid. Corporations have to be 'certain' their stock holders will make money, their executives will get their bonuses. Politicians have to be 'certain' they'll get re-elected. They all need to be 'certain' that none of the economic collapse in which nearly all of them have colluded will cause them to end up in jail. 

Kelly's post made me understand the outpouring of sympathy, admiration and deep gratitude for Steven Jobs: he never made us uncertain...we always knew that whatever he produced would make us feel as if our lives had been made better. 

The OccupyWall Street protesters, are spreading word of their movement with the very technology that Steven Jobs made possible. It's no wonder Wall Street doesn't get it...yet.

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