Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Walter Issacson's Steve Jobs

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First the disclaimer: I own an iPhone, but have never really been too drawn into the Apple phenomenon. I appreciate art, but I also appreciate learning how things work and tinkering—something that is impossible with Apple products. My interest in Steve Jobs is as a cultural and business innovator. I am interested in his success and creativity. I wanted to see what type of personality could influence culture in so many beneficial ways.

I picked this book up after reading Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer, so it was interesting to contrast the two personalities—as Plutarch’s Lives. Both sought to change contemporary culture, and both dedicated their lives to a certain core principles that would pave the path of their lives. Both possessed a high level of emotional intelligence that allowed them to influence people in remarkable ways; for Bonhoeffer it was his ability to evade detection as a principle conspirator against the Nazi power regime even though he was in full view at the center of influential German society, and for Jobs it was his uncanny ability to elicit greatness in people around him to invent, innovate and produce. The difference was in their core principles: Jobs believed in creating aesthetically and technically great products based on simplicity, hope, and wonder, whereas Bonhoeffer dedicated his life to complete submission to God’s will through revelation and action. Jobs’s focus was immediate and temporal that seemed to treat other individuals around himself as a means to achieve his ideal of producing great products—while Bonhoeffer’s ethics extended past his own existence and art and was swallowed up in God’s will. Thus, Bonhoeffer viewed other people as ends in themselves. It is true that at times Bonhoeffer would employ deception to fool his adversaries in the Nazi regime; however deception and even assassination were tools that were to be used only in the honoring and defending of life; which in his case included the lives of millions of Jews.

Steve Jobs was a law unto himself often ignoring vulgarities like license plates, speeding tickets, or cost overruns. He was prickly, demanding, and self-centered in the way he commandeered other’s talents and efforts. For example, Jobs went through dozens of nurses before settling on one whom he could accept to take care of him. Bonhoeffer was introspective and a friend to nearly every man except those who he worked to thwart in their murderous ambition. In his days imprisoned at Tegal military prison where he became such good friends with the guards and inmates that he was able to move about freely within the prison ministering to the guards and other inmates.
In the final moments of each of these great men’s lives, Jobs worked tirelessly to leave a progressing legacy in the form of his company. He was skeptical of ultimate existence outside of his mortal life, but refused to shut the door on the possibility. This is one reason why Steve Jobs refused to have power buttons on any of his products. Bonhoeffer, on the other hand was resolute and calm in his last he is reported to have said just before his execution “This is the end, but for me the beginning of life”.

Steve Jobs changed the world, and underlying his highly developed sense of art and technology was a shadow of ethics that emphasized innocence, simplicity, hope, creativity, and progress. This is seen in the way he participated in the creation of the most beautiful children’s movies and his ban of pornographic or explicitly violent apps on his devices. Bonhoeffer, on the other hand probably didn’t do much to change the arc of history; including the implacable Nazi evil that was unleashed in the 1930s and 40s. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that it is ethics of people like Bonhoeffer who, while living their ordinary lives and sacrificing with dignity and decency who are the true heroes that make our world flourish. Steve Jobs was a phenomenon who was very gifted, but who also benefited from the love of a hard-working parents and a stable home that provided the fertile ground for his creativity.

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