Friday, August 26, 2011

Steve Jobs: American iCon

The still-glowing reaction to the retirement of Steve Jobs highlights what’s wrong with American entrepreneurship these days. Everyone said he’s a genius, our most creative thinker, a brilliant tactical leader.

What went unmentioned is Jobs should go down as one of America’s most colossal disappointments.

And that’s by even his own standard.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: “He was always thinking about those great people that drove humanity to a higher level. People like Shakespeare, you know, like Isaac Newton.”

Sorry. His contributions are more in line with the recently deceased Elliot Handler who died July 21 in Los Angeles. He was 95.

Never heard of him? He was the founder of Mattel who invented Barbie, Ken and Hot Wheels.

He was a toymaker.

That’s all Jobs is.

He devoted much of the last 15 years figuring out nifty ways we could increase the number of songs we carry around in our pockets.

Just about every word I’ve written since 1998 has been on a Mac computer. I love Apple. I love my iPod. I’ve had an iPhone for less than a year and whenever I have any problem my first thought is, “How can what’s in my pocket solve this?”

Much of the world shares my mania for this. That’s why Apple now has more money in the bank ($75 billion) than the U.S. federal government, ($73 billion).

That’s why for the last 10 years I kept thinking, “Okay, now’s the time to take some of that money and some of that genius, put away the toys, and go to work on solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

A man like Jobs and his team -- and they all call themselves “geniuses” and have the t-shirts to back the boast -- shouldn’t be devoting their lives to improving the interface for games like Angry Birds.

If he truly aspired to greatness, he could have walked into a board meeting and said, “Okay, the technology behind the internal combustion engine is 160 years old, it consumes dirty fossil fuels that cost nearly $4 a gallon. We’re taking the next six months to invent a green iEngine that converts leaves and weeds into ozone that’ll float up into the atmosphere where it belongs. I want 10 ideas on my desk by noon tomorrow.”

He’d make a tidy profit on that, for sure. Or he could act like a truly great man and give it away for free.

Sound farfetched? Too socialistic?

Jonas Salk (1914-1995) devoted years of his life to creating a vaccine to wipe out polio, the most terrifying disease known to man. It could have made him a spectacular fortune. Instead, he gave it away.

For free.

“There is no patent,” he said in response to a question at a nationally televised press conference. “Could you patent the sun?”

Now, that’s a truly great man. A Pittsburgher, too. Like me.

Jobs’s health is a mysterious but clearly difficult situation for him. Certainly, he’s already faced thoughts of his own mortality.

Great men at the end think they haven’t done nearly enough.

It happens to famous artists, philosophers, scientists, musicians, architects, inventors and to the magnificent Renaissance man who was all those things rolled into one.

“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Those were the last words of Leonard da Vinci.

To me the most compelling example of this poignancy was detailed in Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 film, “Schindler’s List.” It’s almost too heartbreaking for me to watch again.

Oskar Schindler risked his life to deceive the Nazis that Jews at his factory were essential to the war effort. He saved over 1,100 innocents from certain doom.

Yet, at the end the film shows him wallowing in despair over what he did not do. His wristwatch, he said, could have spared two more; his car perhaps a dozen.

These were great men with humanity’s best interests in their hearts.

Do not dare include Jobs among that list.

He was smart guy who made a lot of money giving us the moronic diversions we crave.

The world’s going to hell.

Thanks to Steve Jobs, at least we’ll all be groovin’ when we get there.


Tom Maynor said...

Dire speak. Waiting on Irene? The iEngine? Like the idea. Can we code that?

Chris Rodell said...

Code away, Tom! The iEngine will make us millions!