A Digital Eden
A eulogy. Translation by Martin Villanueva Ordas.
Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955, and grew up to the tunes of the Grateful Dead. Growing up in a psychedelic society, he saw the digital culture as a way to expand consciousness and make money with an extraordinary sense of taste. A cybernetic dandy, he conceived Apple in the way of a mirror, as an elegant surface capable of transmitting you into your inner self.
His path would be unorthodox, or would not be at all. In 1976, he dropped out of college to devote himself to garage technology along with Steve Wozniak. Jobs provided the organizational talent and Wozniak the inventions. Had the association taken place in an observatory in the 1600s, Jobs would have been the pragmatic, eccentric, seductive and powerful Tycho Brahe, with Wozniak as Kepler, the insurmountable interpreter of the cosmos. Their association reveals that in technological processes, establishing a method of work is more important than having a great idea. Wozniak designed prostheses, while Jobs convinced bodies to use them.
In a field of horticulturists, they planted a clockwork apple. Silicon Valley would be their promised land.
Like Moses, Jobs was abandoned by his biological parents. A peculiar fuel powered his prolific career: the immoderate urge to control his destiny. He hated trade-offs and rarely accepted suggestions. Anecdotes abound about the offensive disdain with which he criticized his colleagues. In his working groups, the creativity of others enhanced his messianic inventions. The result of that strange alliance was an overwhelming string of devices: Mac II, iPhone, iTunes, Pixar, iPad. Computing, animated films, the telephone and music industries changed forever.
To strengthen his marketing, the digital messiah recruited John Scully, then president of Pepsi, with the following question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”
When his caprices ceased to be profitable he was expelled from his own company. For 11 years he wandered in the wilderness. One of his most brilliant failures was NeXT, a computer intended for universities that never found a market. With Apple’s decline and the unexpected profits he obtained as executive producer of Toy Story he was able to return to his first company. A lover of symbolic gestures, he accepted a salary of one dollar with several million in shares.
Jobs was the perfect intermediary between the inventor and the consumer. His products not only had to be efficient, but also needed to be captivating and easy to use. When introducing the iPhone, he said he had created a screen for the human being’s ultimate tool: the finger. Apple’s high prices were indicative of the outstanding innovation people associated with the user-device fusion.
Every guru relies on words, and Jobs invented a rhetorical genre: the transformation of products into works of art. Dressed in the alternative multimillionaire’s attire (tennis shoes, jeans, black sweater), he transformed the launch of a device into a Biblical annunciation of sorts. Crowds stood cheering, acclaiming the advent of each new talisman.
His crusade was backed by the codes of pop culture. A Beatles fan, he named his company after the quartet’s first record label. The logo was an apple with the colors of a rainbow. In line with his aesthetic obsession, he wanted the computers to be as beautiful on the inside and proposed that the cables bear the same colors as the logo. It was one of the few battles he lost.
Jobs gave few interviews and loved advertising. His most famous advertisement was aired only once, on January 22, 1984 during the Super Bowl halftime. He hired Ridley Scott to direct a commercial about a totalitarian future where gray masses are anesthetized by IBM cretinism. In it, a woman (the only one wearing colorful clothes) throws a hammer against the screen where the tyrant is speaking, thus starting the rebellion. In the year Orwell had assigned a technologized dictatorship to, Apple represented freedom. Many years later, Jobs repeated the advertisement. On this occasion however, he appeared as the tyrant. And then the image burst to announce the iPad. The visionary had the luxury of reinventing himself.
In another campaign (Think Different) he compared Apple to Picasso, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Jobs was the contradictory Buddhist who used child labor in China alongside motifs of rebellion to sell gadgets with a programmed obsolescence, yet he also created marvelous ways of communicating.
In a splendid chronicle by Esquire, Tom Junod pointed out that the Silicon Valley hierarch was not after utopia: “He was never driven by a vision of a better world; he was driven by a vision of himself as a person whose decisions guide the world.”
Mona Simpson, Jobs’ biological sister, wrote a novel that perhaps explains his tireless quest: The Lost Father. For 56 years the greatest promoter of the digital culture craved the forbidden fruit. In an obvious manner, Apple alluded to the Beatles; secretly, to the Father that placed an apple in Eden. That’s what Jobs wanted to be. And amazingly, he nearly made it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.