The [Thursday] Papers
"Yesterday, I lived in a world with a Steve Jobs in it. Tonight, I don't. That's truly how I feel right now," Andy Ihnatko wrote for the Sun-Times last night.
"We need people in technology with focus and passion who think ahead and see what's possible, if only the right pieces can be pushed into place and clicked together. He wasn't the guy at Apple who came up with those ideas, but he was the guy who created an environment that encouraged, even demanded, that kind of thinking, and the guy who would put the full might and authority of an enormous company behind you and your work if he thought you were right."
And not just in technology.
"Steve Jobs determined long ago that his imagination, and that of those working under him, far outstripped ours, and so Apple devices were introduced to do things most consumers couldn't conceive of until he demonstrated what was possible," Phil Rosenthal writes for the Tribune.
That's called innovation, a word getting a lot of attention these days but not a lot of support - particularly in the news business. Oh, the technology is growing by leaps and bounds, but Jobs realized that the technology wasn't the end but the means; what you did with the technology was the important part.
In other words, the technology was a tool to deliver . . . content. And the content, unavoidably shaped by the delivery method (as famously observed by Marshall McLuhan), is the point.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt once said that news organizations had failed to recognize that the discrete news article, or "post," had become the coin of the realm in the digital world, or, as he called it, "the atomic unit of consumption."
While that's really only partially so - brands (reputation + sensibility) still matter. But news organizations still haven't significantly broken down their old beat system or the traditional structure of stories or their way of doing actual reporting to reflect not just new realities but new opportunities.
And funders from foundations to VCs are still chasing flavors of the month or half-witted marketing notions on the cheap like the lowest level of rehashed community press release journalism that describes "hyperlocal" or so-called civic engagement models that depend on "citizen journalists" and/or cheerleading anti-journalists who have more in common with their pals on the local chamber of commerce than reporters who know how to read an indictment.
Steve Jobs is rightly being celebrated today for his iconoclastic approach, creative spirit and consumer instincts by people who will go back to doing the same old thing tomorrow. It's a shame we never really learn.
I'm a Mac guy and like many Mac guys I think anyone who uses a PC is a freakin' idiot. Elitist? Yes and no. That's the weird thing about Macs - they occupy two cultural marketing positions at once. Macs, you see, were originally dubbed "computers for the rest of us" for their ease of use and lack of techieness. They were populist.
And yet, because they were the "alternative" computer that was clearly superior, Macs developed a hipster cache that created an elitist aura.
Throw in the fact that they once were (slightly) more expensive than PCs but a far better value in the long-run, along with their favored status among art and graphic types (versus the PC's monopolistic domination of the dreary corporate world as well as the PC's butt-ugly hardware sitting on the shelves of big box stores) and you get perhaps the world's most fascinating and complicated brands.
Oh, and you don't get viruses and it takes one step to do what takes three on a PC.
But it hasn't been alll sunshine and roses in the Apple universe.
Steve Jobs was a master innovator, but not necessarily a great man. We shouldn't confuse the two.
"He parks his Mercedes in handicapped spaces, periodically reduces subordinates to tears, and fires employees in angry tantrums," Peter Elkind reported for Forbes in 2008.
"Jobs is notoriously secretive and controlling when it comes to his relationship with the press, and he tries to stifle stories that haven't received his blessing with threats and cajolery."
That might not seem unusual for a corporate executive - even one who considered himself (in Elkins' estimation) "less as a mogul than as an artist." Maybe he thought that granted him the right to be, shall we say, mercurial.
"History, of course, is littered with tales of combustible geniuses," Elkind writes. "What's astounding is how well Jobs has performed atop a large public company - by its nature a collaborative enterprise. Pondering this issue, Stanford management science professor Robert Sutton discussed Jobs in his bestselling 2007 book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.
"'As soon as people heard I was writing a book on assholes, they would come up to me and start telling a Steve Jobs story,' says Sutton. 'The degree to which people in Silicon Valley are afraid of Jobs is unbelievable. He made people feel terrible; he made people cry. But he was almost always right, and even when he was wrong, it was so creative it was still amazing.' Says Palo Alto venture capitalist Jean-Louis Gasse, a former Apple executive who once worked with Jobs: 'Democracies don't make great products. You need a competent tyrant.'"
That is, if products are society's end goal instead of producing fulfilling lives.
"When Jobs had his own illegitimate child, also at the age of 23, he too struggled with his responsibilities," Elkind reported. "For two years, though already wealthy, he denied paternity while Lisa's mother went on welfare. At one point Jobs even swore in a signed court document that he couldn't be Lisa's father because he was 'sterile and infertile, and as a result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child."
I suppose that's his own business, but it still bugs me.
"Was Jobs himself involved in backdating stock options? At Apple, the answer is yes: In an SEC filing, Apple acknowledged that Jobs 'was aware [of] or recommended the selection of some favorable grant dates.' But Apple's investigation concluded that Jobs' involvement didn't amount to misconduct because he 'was unaware of the accounting implications.'"
That's not his own business.
Far more disturbing than greed on paper is the nagging feeling that some poor kid in China died so I could enjoy my MacBook.
"Apple has been repeatedly criticized for using factories that abuse workers and where conditions are poor," the Telegraph reported last February. "Last week, it emerged that 62 workers at a factory that manufactures products for Apple and Nokia had been poisoned by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause muscular degeneration and blur eyesight."
Jobs reportedly ignored other reports of problems with his outsourced labor pool for years. What the company found when it finally deigned to take a look was as ugly as its products are pretty.
"Last year, an employee at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that is one of Apple's biggest suppliers, committed suicide after being accused of stealing a prototype for the iPhone," the Telegraph notes.
"Sun Danyong, 25, was a university graduate working in the logistics department when the prototype went missing. An investigation revealed that the factory's security staff had beaten him, and he subsequently jumped to his death from the 12th floor of his apartment building.
"Foxconn runs a number of super-factories in the south of China, some of which employ as many as 300,000 workers and form self-contained cities, complete with banks, post offices and basketball courts.
"It has been accused, however, of treating its employees extremely harshly. China Labor Watch, a New York-based NGO, accused Foxconn of having an 'inhumane and militant' management, which neglects basic human rights. Foxconn's management were not available for comment.
"In its report, Apple revealed the sweatshop conditions inside the factories it uses. Apple admitted that at least 55 of the 102 factories that produce its goods were ignoring Apple's rule that staff cannot work more than 60 hours a week.
"The technology company's own guidelines are already in breach of China's widely-ignored labor law, which sets out a maximum 49-hour week for workers.
"Apple also said that one of its factories had repeatedly falsified its records in order to conceal the fact that it was using child labor and working its staff endlessly."
That's not insanely great.
Steve Jobs was a visionary who changed the world with his products. I admired him tremendously and often wished he worked in my profession. It's just too bad his workplace didn't embrace what would have been the greatest innovation of all: A happy workforce.
* Steve Jobs contributed $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel's mayoral campaign.
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Posted on October 6, 2011
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