I don't want to make light of the death of Steve Jobs. I am, after all, a pastor and I am charged with helping people deal with grief, and we all grieve differently and for different reasons. Still, I've been a bit bemused by the outpouring of grief for Steve Jobs, much of it coming from progressive/liberal types, and shared on Facebook. Many of these folks are close friends of mine. Although I expect that none of my friends knew Jobs personally, they seem to be taken by his passing in ways that might seem unexpected. Indeed, some of the responses have seemed akin to raising Jobs for sainthood, suggesting perhaps that the waiting period be waved so he can join John Paul II on the fast track, or at the very least a moral/spiritual exemplar.
Part of my puzzlement probably stems from the fact that I’m a “PC” guy. I’ve never owned an Apple product, and the ones I’ve used have been those at my wife’s former school. Using the Mac I never saw why it was so great. I confess this not to dis Apple, just to note that whatever ways Steve Jobs touched my life, it likely occurred indirectly.
But what is it about Jobs that has gotten so many people’s attention, especially at a time when folks are either Occupying Wall Street or celebrating those who have. At least some of the protesters are protesting corporate greed. So, how is Jobs different from other corporate folks, including Gates and Microsoft?
From what I’ve read, Jobs wasn’t a philanthropist like Bill Gates. There are no foundations being set up to cure cancer or solve the ongoing problem of poverty. When invited by Gates and Buffett to join them in giving 50% of their earnings to philanthropy he apparently declined. Now, he could have given anonymously, but that rarely happens. So, what we do know is that he poured his energies into his company. Indeed, he apparently was a creative genius, and Richard Kauffman of the Christian Century may be correct in suggesting that Jobs may be the last of the great creative geniuses. Jobs, like Gates, is a Baby Boomer – he was just a few years older than me, a reminder of my own creeping mortality. Richard may also be correct that the future of inventiveness may be determined by steps taken now to create an environment where such genius can flow. But is this grief more a part of our own addiction to technology, something many bemoan even as they celebrate the benefits.
So, for a PC guy like me, the question then is – how is Jobs different? Why does he deserve such lionization at his death? If, as Richard suggests, Jobs devoted his attention to the common good, how does a better I-Pad or I-Phone make the world a better place? And would this not have happened with a Google or some other similar company? I eagerly await your responses!