Visionary, yes. Pioneer, absolutely. Then add a string of attributes like ruthless, impatient, self-serving and controlling, and you finally obtain an honest image of the man Steve Jobs was — that is, a man as great and as flawed as any other. Yet, the outpour of empathy regarding Jobs’ passing — from Facebook status updates depicting tears and the inability to stop crying, to the stockpile of flowers enveloping Apple stores — led me to believe otherwise. Had I not known better, I would have believed that a viral tribute to a false idol was being streamed right on my Facebook homepage. While it is not in my place to tell individuals how to mourn, I stand resolved in saying that the display was quite unseemly. He may have had an uncommonly broad impact during his lifetime, but Jobs was no deity.
Don’t get me wrong, Jobs was amazing at what he did — investing in great ideas, helping develop sleek, user-tailored technological gizmos from cheaply made parts and cheaper outsourced labor, all to be sold at exorbitant prices for the benefit of Apple and its stockholders. As much as I was moved by the collective empathy, I wondered why Jobs deserved greater acknowledgement in death than the countless others who died on that day or any preceding one. To cry for a business-savvy billionaire-technocrat whose main contributions to the world could be summed up in terms of added consumerism and technological competitiveness and an individual whom you most likely never met nor personally interacted with is mildly insulting, if not a shallow display altogether.
Where were the tears for the impoverished and the helpless that slipped away into the night? Or how about Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a monumental civil rights activist whose actions arguably had a tangible impact on American society and your own life? The list of individuals continues, but not an equivalent outpour of condolences. The main difference between Jobs and the others that passed away on that day was simply their level of public exposure, and it is the reason that I feel much frustration. It was perfectly fine to acknowledge Jobs for his achievements and his inspiring qualities, but there was no need to inflate Jobs’ memory with the added unnecessary public displays of grief — the collective mourning for all others was but a pin drop at a rock concert anyway.
If anything, a more equitable tribute to Jobs would have avoided aggrandizing him, instead concentrating on his human qualities, both good and bad. He was a staunchly independent perfectionist, the rare epitome of a fastidious workaholic, who burned his life away in the flames of dedication and passion, not stepping down as CEO until the last moment. He was resilient, ever starting a new project just as soon as one ended abruptly in success or failure. And despite harnessing the “Think Differently” dogma of Apple, he missed the chance to actually revolutionize the industry by untightening the control of Apple’s operating systems, and humanizing the manufacturing process for all of Apple’s products. In essence, he was like anybody else that dared to be — full of flaws and successes.
In passing, I acknowledge Jobs’ contributions to technology as I look up the shipping date for my why-can’t-it-arrive-sooner? iPhone 4S. But if any part of me truly, genuinely grieves for his passing, it’s not for his products that I get to enjoy or for the industry he developed — it’s because he is a fellow human being, like any other; and, knock on wood, should any individual responsible for any other technological good that I enjoy happen to pass away, I would aptly treat them with the same respect — no greater or lesser sympathy — and certainly with acknowledgement, not a Facebook post. Because, at least in death, all should be acknowledged equally.
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