Remember When Steve Jobs Dissed the Stylus?

10 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Steve Jobs film? Get in line.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a conference room at The New York Times, my then employer, when a senior digital editor plugged his laptop into a mounted display and broadcast a single Web page to a room filled with ambitious journalists. On the large television before us, he had projected the motherlode: the Times’ main Chartbeat page, the one that analyzed voluminous churns of reader data in real time—the number of people consuming each story, and what they were reading, down to the very second. One is “Macbeth,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play in which he plays the titular nobleman who cuts a bloody swath across Scotland in his mania to make come true the witches’ prophecy that he will someday be king.

Before our eyes, tiny numbers flickered upward and downward, NASDAQ-style, registering the diaspora of eyeballs through slide shows and opinion pieces, foreign reports, and eggplant recipes. On Wednesday, of course, the world will be glued to news out of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, where Apple’s AAPL -1.92% fans expect new iPhones, iPads, an Apple TV, and maybe more. All of a sudden, like some dystopian horror movie in which the sea suddenly vanishes from the Earth or all the trees are exhumed from the forest, the numbers beneath every other story began to evaporate and resurface with centrifugal velocity under the Apple article.

When asked what life lessons he’d learned from the man, Ive recounted an incident in which Jobs was especially brutal with his criticism of some employees. With the world’s attention focused on Apple’s much-ballyhooed attempt to get into our living rooms, I’ve been distracted instead by the incongruity of Apple’s attention to big businesses. So Ive pulled his friend aside to encourage him to take it easy: And [Jobs] said “Well, why?” And I said, “Because I care about the team.” And he said this brutally, brilliantly insightful thing, which was, “No Jony, you’re just really vain.

If you believe Apple’s sincerity in going after this market, and I do, it’s a sure sign that under Tim Cook’s leadership Apple isn’t stuck anymore in the ways of Steve Jobs. No matter what worthwhile journalism we in that room produced—searing exposés into campaign finance, say, investigations into foreign dictatorships, or even clicky “Modern Love” columns—nothing could command an audience quite like an Apple product announcement.

Wyle’s doe eyes and baby face lend the character an aura of innocence, an impression belied by Jobs’ behavior in this drama that tracks him from HP to Apple and from acid-dropping hippie to take-no-prisoners tech titan. And I’m surprised at you, because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed that you were perceived by other people.” [Vanity Fair] Consider for a moment the poisonous acid of Jobs’ logic. Director Joshua Michael Stern and screenwriter Matt Whiteley simply don’t know what story they are trying to tell. ”Jobs” is too much a dull, paint-by-the-numbers biopic that offers little in the way of insight into the man and even less reason to care about him. Biggest surprise: Ashton Kutcher was nominated for a Razzie Award for worst actor, but he actually acquits himself well, the actor’s familiar smirk well suited to the ambitious Jobs.

Steve Jobs despised selling to what is known in the tech world as “the enterprise.” Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd, now co-CEO of Oracle, related in a public appearance earlier this year how Jobs spoke about his dislike for selling to businesses: Steve told me one time, ‘I don’t want to do your job. Normally, a platform for short-form work, the company produced “iSteve,” a 2013 feature biopic parody where even the casting is a kind of joke — Justin Long, famous for being the Mac in Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad campaign, plays Jobs. Jobs colluded with other tech overlords to hold down employee wages in Silicon Valley; he made probably illegal use of stock backdating to get big payouts for himself and others at Apple; and of course there were the countless Chinese workers made to endure low pay, wage theft, and brutal conditions in the globe-spanning manufacturing apparatus that puts together the iPhone, the iPad, and most other Silicon Valley toys. But watching Gibney’s film, the wage collusion and stock backdating seem more about keeping together, and then properly rewarding, the top technicians and artists at Apple — Jobs’ “family,” as he referred to them.

Amazon and Netflix have already shown, with great skill, how well-financed platforms can create engaging content—and how well they can perform when they control the portal. The documentary paints an unflattering portrait of the man who urged people to “think different,” but who comes across in the wealth of amassed details and interviews with his associates (and the man himself in archival footage) as built in the tradition of a rapacious, self-serving businessman, a robber baron for the technological age.

In contrast, when confronted about worker suicides at Foxconn, the gargantuan Chinese manufacturer, Jobs’ main reaction seems to have been annoyance that people weren’t paying more attention to how awesome Apple’s products were. The two companies unveiled a “partnership to create a fast lane for iOS business users by optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices and apps, integrating iPhone with Cisco enterprise environments and providing unique collaboration on iPhone and iPad,” the companies jointly said.

As my colleague Max Chafkin recently noted, one underlying motivation in Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, the virtual-reality company, is its bet that V.R. headsets will one day become the norm—the smartphones of the future. The funny part there is that Cisco once owned the terms “iPhone” and “IOS”—before Steve Jobs steamrolled Cisco into giving them up. (I recount both episodes in my book, Inside Apple.) At the time, Cisco meekly acquiesced to Apple’s demands. In 1995, Jobs took part in a three-part documentary series, “Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires.” He was a small part of a large canvas, and his interview with director Robert X. This is also why, when a commercial implicitly connected Apple’s work with the Civil Rights Movement, peace activism, and scientific genius, lots of people could digest it un-ironically. If left unchecked by taxes, laws, or regulations, greed will drive the wealthy and powerful to exploit their workers, trample the poor, and despoil the environment.

Biggest surprise: That a 70-minute film of a man talking in front of a camera not only holds the viewer’s attention, but provides the most fascinating glimpse into Jobs to date. “Greetings, it is I, your insanely great leader. In fact, the mysticism of things that matter “more than money” can be a cudgel held over workers’ heads: your pay, your hours, your working conditions, your life outside the job — those are lowly concerns. But this just pounds home that we’re often incapable of morally policing ourselves in how far we should take our grandiose visions — as Ive’s anecdote about Jobs shows.

But when you’ve amassed as much wealth and power as Steve Jobs, there’s almost no one who can effectively tell you “no.” Within your bubble, the costs to other people of enacting your vision can remain safely off your radar. And in a social order where the loss of a job can mean the loss of livelihood, social standing, shelter, health care, financial security, and even three square meals a day, people often have no exit. That’s why unions, full employment, and the general push to keep the distribution of wealth and income as egalitarian as possible are all of such vital moral importance.

Which gets to what’s unnerving about the widespread acclaim for Jobs, and what we seem unable to realize about him: Just because someone doesn’t care about money, doesn’t mean they adequately care about people.

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