Thursday, 6 October 2011


I find today's outpouring of grief over Steve Jobs' death genuinely saddening. I always get annoyed by mass public displays of grief when someone famous dies - I find them incredibly tasteless, as they seem to be more about the person putting on the display than the person who has passed away - but this one seems particularly disheartening. It's one thing to prattle on about how great you think someone was, or what a great person they were (and I'm seriously grateful that Twitter and Facebook didn't exist when Princess Diana was smeared across a tunnel in Paris). It's quite another to say that they "changed the world", "changed people's lives" and other such hyperbole. Seriously, do the people making these statements actually understand the meaning of these words?

Now, maybe I'm just being a bit of a "negative fish", as a friend of mine called me the other day; but it seems to me that this tells us something about the state of society today. People's lives are "changed" by the ownership of gadgets. What is it about the iPhone that has changed people's lives? It can't be the ability to communicate over long distances, because that was Alexander Graham Bell. It can't be the ability to make phone calls on the move, because that was someone in the 70s, and if we're talking about making mobile phones truly everyday pieces of equipment, then I think Nokia or Motorola would point out they'd been selling them en masse about ten years before Apple entered the market. So what has the iPhone done that we weren't doing pre-2007? Well, the truth is "nothing new", as Apple's main strength was always doing existing things well, rather than true innovation. But if you had to credit the iPhone with "changing" something, it would be giving people something to play about with when they're bored.

That's it.

I've also seen people crediting Apple with "changing the way we listen to music", but people had MP3 players long before the iPod, and platforms for distributing MP3s online were around long before iTunes - the only thing iTunes can truly be credited with doing is convincing people to pay for music when it looked like people were all going to download stuff for free, which did more to save the bottom lines of record labels than it did for any music consumer (especially thanks to DRM). If anything, the music industry is in a far worse shape today than it ever has been, and music has been seriously downgraded in value, being little more than a sound file you listen to before shuffling to one of the thousand other tracks on your player.

So, people's lives were changed by being able to check Facebook on the bus and being able to be more fickle about their listening habits (remember when you had to spend the whole day making do with whatever CD you put in your CD player in the morning? WOOAAHH!!! Talk about barbaric!! How did we ever survive?) Makes you feel proud to be part of the human race that we care about such important things in life.

But it's worse than that, because as I've already said, Apple didn't invent any of these things - they merely made them look nice and shiny. They convince people they're buying a superior product by charging more money for lesser technology. They feed into people's desires to be part of the crowd. There's a quote by my favourite lyricist - Richey Edwards from Manic Street Preachers - which goes:
"We got signed to Sony for a lot of money, but none of us bought anything, except portable CD players and stuff. Then, two months later, another one came out that was thinner and I bought that one. It was no value to my life, it just means I have a smaller CD player."
He's quite right that having the latest gadget adds no value to your life. So why is it that people get so excited about owning the latest Apple release? I know people that think Apple are amazing, that all their products are amazing, and that they pretty much wish everything they bought was made by Apple. The iPad is the ultimate triumph of the consumer-obsessed culture we live in - it does absolutely nothing that people couldn't already do with their smartphone or laptop, and indeed, it's essentially a phone which is too big for your pocket, or a laptop that you can't do much with, depending on which way you look at it. Yet people bought it just because it was Apple, and they're still buying it. If Apple tried to design a sleeker, more user-friendly version of a wooden stick (called an iStick, of course), then people would buy it in droves.

Steve Jobs leaves behind a wife and kids, as well as probably hundreds of friends and colleagues who will have genuine reason to mourn his loss,and I feel sorry for these people. However, those people tweeting #iSad or posting Facebook updates about how much he changed their lives would do well to forego the tawdry over-reaction and mourn something else that they've truly lost - the entire point of their existence. Because if a man who made some gadgets you tinker with really had such an impact on your life, then it's not much of a life to begin with.

Must I share a planet with these people?


  1. It's mourning sickness as was said during the Diana nonsense.

    Leaving flowers at Apple stores is just tosh.

    That said, he was an extraordinary innovator who changed the world.

    That itself is reason to be shocked but I didn't know the man and he didn't touch one's interior psyche as Lennon did.

    Real mourning is for families and friends. This display has all the depth of feeling of a video game.

    Still, a great man.

  2. "That said, he was an extraordinary innovator who changed the world."

    How did he though? This is what I'm getting at. He made consumer gadgets a bit more user-friendly and prettier. Being able to check Twitter on the bus has not changed the world - it's just given us an extra option for frittering away time when we're at a loose end. The telephone allowed us to communicate over vast distances. The internet allowed us to share information quickly anywhere in the world. These are technological advancements that changed the world. The ability to use a touch screen for user input on a phone instead of a track ball? Err, not so much.

    And from what I've read on other blogs yesterday, it's hard to tell how great a man he really was. I expect those who actually knew him could tell us. If you say he's a great businessman, then I'll agree wholeheartedly, because he's clearly managed to convince a lot of people round the world that the gadgets he sold them are essential to their lives. That's some achievement. Hasn't changed the world, though.

  3. I said it when Diana fever hit the world:

    People are sad. But the sadness is not with, or at, one particular thing. It's just a general sadness. A shit life. They can't actually cry about any particular part of it; it's not that bad, but the sum of all the crap in their lives is sad. They maybe don't even know that they are sad. It's the way they have always been.

    And then along comes something like a death of a famous person and lo... there is an outpouring of transferred grief. They aren't really grieving for the person; they are grieving for themselves.

    It's not thought out; it's not rational.

    Diana was treated badly by the royal family. She was treated appallingly by Charles. So what? lots of people are treated appallingly by their partners, friends, family, in-laws, functionaries, government, etc.

    Diana had compensations in her life that most of them never had.

    Her death was sad. Any young life cut short is sad, but there are thousands every day, all across the world.

    I agree about Jobs. Of course it's sad that he died; it's even sadder that the bloke along the road was killed in a car crash not so long ago. His wife and kids are suffering as badly, at the same time wondering how on earth they are going to continue to live in that house.