Cutting through Steve Jobs Zen Code.
Mysticism and rationality
In an interview with Fast Company Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, stated: “His whole life is a combination of mystical enlightenment thinking with hardcore rational thought”.
From which side of enlightenment should we look at Steve Jobs, from the enlightenment of Zen Buddhism, from Western humanistic enlightenment or from both? How can we think of Steve Jobs as a renaissance man?
Steve Jobs was not the spirit of Apple’s products. The objectified version of that spirit spilled onto the screen of the Apple assembly line was the spirit, if not the true spirit. The Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Steve Jobs’ first Buddhist influence) highlighted the pitfalls of spiritual materialism when he wrote: “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.” How we deal with the tyranny of using things and how we use them efficiently and elegantly have been Steve Jobs’ fundamental and lifelong preoccupation.
Contrary to the Buddhist belief, Steve Jobs saw no pitfalls in ‘using things’ in a spiritual way. On the contrary, for him creating smart devices that ease our workload can have a remarkable impact on our spiritual lives. For as long as Steve could aestheticize the use of Apple products, such experience was able to generate a passion close to the Buddhist enlightenment. Nonetheless, such aesthetic even when graced by enlightened wisdom, to the Buddhist eye, is mere spiritual materialism.
Steve Jobs lured John Sculley former CEO of Pepsi with his legendary pitch: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Steve Silberman, writer for Wired magazine warn us in his article, “What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?” of an ironic reversal of the pitch: “It’s intriguing, if depressing, to imagine what the digital world would have been like if Kobun, [Jobs’ spiritual teacher], had given Jobs the opposite advice, along the lines of Jobs’ own now-infamous challenge to Sculley: Do you want to sell stylish electronic gadgets for the rest of your life, or come with me and vow to save all sentient beings from suffering?”
All the human and spiritual aspects of the Apple product are tightly locked in a cozy space of wonders between the screen of the device and the ‘screen’ that the human brain has become. The ‘human spirit’ is neither found deep down inside the device nor inside the human brain, but right on the surface of these charming veneers, stretching in all directions through their horizontal breadth.
The concept of ‘skin-deep’ is immensely profound in this context, right at the expense of one being left with pure shallowness. This is shallowness from inside out. Apple’s shallowness, its visual idiot guidance through the interface is in its own right a different kind of depth. Under the invisible watching eyes of the Apple screen the deep and the shallow become indistinguishable. We just happen to celebrate this ‘indistinguishable’ experience right on the surface.
Yet, if the humanistic tradition, as defined by Western classical values, is to be considered, the humanistic aspect of the Apple product does not shine through. Such humanistic heritage was above all about reason and rational thinking. With Apple the screen of the device and the ‘screen’ of the human brain have made a truce: To erase forever the distance between thinking and sensing favoring the sensory.
What could be enlightening for the mind in term of the vertical depth of our spiritual life is sucked in on both screens by the ‘black hole’ that the Apple device and our brains inner making have become. These screens are complexity swallowers, leaving only event horizons of simplicity, dogmas, and clichés.
Complex spiritual issues were never meant to be left to the experts or to computers, but for the debate of all. Yet, what has been left of spirituality for the common person is the perfect dummified, user-friendly interface (as much on the screen as in the brain). Any debate becomes a matter of ‘connecting-the-dots.’
At the core of the Apple product (as at the core of our brain), any kind of human knowledge has become fun and playful but also trapped by the logistic of the device and by the brain’s extensive skin-deep approach to any matter. It feels as if beyond the screens there is nothing but pure entropy ‘craving’ to be enlightened by the flat ratio of their surfaces. Even when we know there is per se so much more beyond the screens, we don’t want to know.
We are trapped by data overload and all we can humanly grasp of it is on its interface. Literally, we are transfixed on the event horizon of the device, with the device. In there, wisdom, rationality and any mystical experience have become a holographic spirit frozen in time, with no depth, just breadth.
The cave of platonic essences: Deceitful jolly purity.
One of the most noticeable traits of Steve Jobs personality was his zealous pursuit of purity. During the conception of the iPod he insisted on his vision of it being not just white but pure white. Pure white is not referring to the whiteness of the color but to the essence of the white.
In Isaacson’s book, he tells us. “Every once in a while, I find myself in the presence of purity — purity of spirit and love — and I always cry.” Then in another page, he goes on to explain why John Lasseter, the director, named his film, Toy Story: “It sprang from a belief, which he and Jobs share, that products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. If the object were to have feelings, these would be based on its desire to fulfill its essence.” In this case, the human purpose that is attributed to the object becomes its essence. Essence here is anthropomorphized, purely subjective. Steve Jobs just presented such subjectivity outside the person. There is some kind of subjective idealism in Steve Jobs, which he tried hard to push forward as a kind of objective reality of his own thought. This kind of posturing, however, even when holding some similarities cannot be confused with Plato’s objective idealism.
There is a natural resistance of the Apple product to the purity of platonic essences. Plato’s pursuit of perfection never took place in a world of sensations in which our mind is pampered at every turn. If the purity of the white were to be a platonic idea of white, the white would have ‘blinded’ our eyes and not mollycoddled them.
We, the consumers, know that the light the Apple product shines doesn’t come from within of the Platonic cave of the marketplace. It has come from outside and once in the cave, tickled our neurons, causing us to act like moths swarming around the snugged light bulb of the Apple product. Serotonin, in that respect, become moths swarming around the snugged synapses of our brain connections.
Furthermore, the light that was supposed to shine outside of the cave, burns so bright within that it has reduced the ‘outside’ to dimmed tubes or corridors of reality to journey through from one bright interim of an Apple screen to another.
If there is purity of the de-sign and not of the sign in the Apple product it is at the level of the senses. If the Apple product were to achieve purity of thought, it will need to rely on the programming language that builds it (Object Oriented Programming), but even there it is pure formal thought at the service of pleasing appearances. Nothing has ever been so far from the platonic essences.
Plato’s light out of the cave was meant to blind you beyond your senses. The retina resolution of any Apple device is vibrant and sharp, meant to truly plunge you into your senses. Steve Jobs gave us a screen-caved renaissance, a happy eager and sophisticated techno-aristocrat slave of the senses.
I am such a slave, like Oedipus with eyes but no sight, touching and touching the walls of my high-tech-caved reality like a star-nosed mole. One day we will have star-nosed brains, living in caves and mapping reality without the need for light, or sunlight for that matter.
If Plato were alive, he would have looked at us from outside our caves and uttered: “You in there, you have your own light in your nose you have nothing to do out here.”
But we know; Plato got it wrong. The Platonic idea never made it back to the senses and it is not hard to see why. The come back to the senses most of the time is not a “come through” but a “come in” imprisoning the senses over and over again under alluring pretenses of liberation.
But, we can get it wrong with a ‘come back’ to the senses as much as with a ‘come back’ to thoughts or Platonic ideas. Thoughts cannot come back to ‘think in’ ideas, but to ‘think through’ ideas, ‘through’ the senses.
It is this ‘through’ that is missing at the heart of Platonism and at the heart of the Apple object. The first one trapped in the ‘out’ of ideas and the second one trapped in the ‘in’ of the senses. They are the reverse of each other.
The only true Platonism (and Philosophy for that matter) that can be attributed to Steve Jobs is a Platonism of the senses. Such Platonism is only possible if first the very core of the Platonic idea is reversed and what is ‘idea’ becomes ‘tactdea’ (tact-idea). Second, if it is the Apple object and not Steve Jobs that exudes purity. However, Apple products fail to represent the Platonic essences no less than Steve Jobs failed to represent the Zen essence as a result of his spiritual materialism.
No doubt, the Apple product manifests not only the purity of the Apple object, but also the purity of its function, the metaphysical cheerful inanity of the functional, of that which refuses in its ruthless objectification to be rogue and dry-practical.
In fact, the Apple product is carefree impractical, but it can only deliver such uselessness through a methodical guiding pragmatism for our senses. The human spirit incarnated in the senses never has manifested such a feast of ethereal levitation of the mind over an object. Yet, we are still trapped in here by the ruses of spiritual materialism.
Never such a trick and such a masquerade of identities between the senses and our spirit has been executed with such precision. If the relationship between electrons and protons reproduces the relation between stars at the center of galaxies and their black holes, the Lilliputian invasion of the Apple object over the unquantifiable nature of our spirits seems to reproduce such a galactic ratio.
The Apple object, not the Apple product, hijacks our spirit. The object is the pure form of the product. The Apple object is the substance of what could become an Apple product, for instance, the prefix i in lowercase for any product represents the objectual existence of the product as an Apple iProduct. Whatever can attain the i prefix is baptized with Applety as product. The Apple object is the invisible object woven in the fabric of the product, the pure essence or blueprint of what is not there and rather has acquired existence as a product, an Apple product, the very existence of Applety.
In Latin, the words for ‘apple’ (“malum”) and for ‘evil’ (“malum”) are nearly identical. However, to bite into the Applety of reality as Steve Jobs seemingly did by turning an object in his head into a product in his hands has nothing sinful to it. Steve Jobs didn’t deal with the ‘flesh’ of the Apple of knowledge, but with the skin of that Apple, wrapping its peel around the human imagination.
In fact, the Apple is still intact and its peeling has been so precise that what is presented as a product is a beautiful scarless hollowed Apple ready to enchant and give us a prosthetic, portable spirit. The sinful bite, if there is any, is not biting the Apple, but biting into the personalized spirit that has taken over the entire Apple.
Paganism and Secularism.
There are around 370 deities in ancient Greek mythology, each with its own peculiar story ranging from incest to cannibalism. Only twelve, the Olympians, were left after a long battle for supremacy against the Titans. On Steve Jobs’ return to Apple in 1997 Apple’s product line reduced considerably. Jobs focused on a few products aiming to create the best quality products, which they went on to do. Steve Jobs got his wish fulfilled in those products becoming the new Olympians to mere mortal consumers. Funnily, these products have equally a story of ‘incest’ and ‘cannibalism.’ After an endless battle with Microsoft Apple decided that the battle was over and then, like Zeus, Apple started cannibalizing its own creations. Its only competitor would be itself. As in the Greek myth, cannibalism would not imply the killing of its own kind, but just a way to control them.
The Apple product is the pagan object par excellence. It revives the god-like sublime through the endless endoscopy of the trivial. The divine of the senses never has been so liquefied with the divine of the spirit.
The Apple object is an object that insists solely on causing salivation of its purity around our proximity even before salivation takes place in our mouths. It acts like a ‘morphic field’ of desire by which we can all feel simultaneously connected. Never has the human spirit been reduced so far and so elegantly to its insipid secular pagan nature.
Despite Apple’s draconian copyright laws, on buying an Apple product and following the first days of personalized baptism by your ‘spirit’, a new object is born. It is now your product, ‘patented’ exclusively by you and for you. You are the creator: You are your own Steve Jobs, the Zeus, the spiritual ventriloquist in the Mount Olympus that your Apple product has become.
Traditionally an object is not pagan, secular or religious for that matter. Objects have been up to now humanly soulless. Yet, the Apple object is secular and religious at the same time. It is secular because it is ascetic in spirit or matters concerning your soul but just until it ‘intimately’ enables you to interface with your spirit vis-a-vis.
It is religious because first you have faith in it before and beyond any rational judgment, second because it makes you feel like a God able to use it like a pro even when you are stupid. You might be acting plainly stupid, yet you will always appear damn smart with your Apple gadget. Stupidity has never felt so cool, so right.
It almost feels as if we have to relinquish theorizing about Apple. What makes Apple tick is not the Apple product, nor the Apple object, nor the Apple idea, it is Apple’s ‘je ne sais quoi’, the bestowment of a feeling of righteousness even at the grossest level of imbecility. Literally, we have become the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod protégées. They are to us our souls’ docking station.
Steve Jobs and Paul Rand aesthetics.
Design, as by Paul Rand standards, is the synthesis of form and content. When form predominates, meaning is blunted, when content predominates, interest lags. It is the achievement of synthesis that is always elusive even when it appears so perfectly tangible. The work of a genius is not just achieving such synthesis but achieving it while testifying to its elusiveness.
The elusiveness of synthesis is not due to the synthesis needing improvement or polishing. Synthesis always ends up on the side of ONE particular form or ONE particular content in its very universal and corporate outtake. Steve Jobs’ gimmick would not exist unless Paul Rand had got it wrong. So, where did Paul Rand get it wrong?
Paul Rand wrote: “Graphic Design is a genre of Art.” And that: “A work of art is realized when form and content are indistinguishable.” But he also wrote: “Everything is design. Everything!” Is there not here a conflict of definition? No, there is not enough clarity of definition. Such clarity has been left to intuition.
Usually, when logic is used to explain things with words, ambiguity is left to intuition to make it appear self-explanatory. Funnily, Design and Art lend themselves to this kind of self-explanatory ‘shortcuts’. ‘Shortcuts’ can be of great value to marketing in steering intuition to the desired result.
For Design to be everything, it must manifest either as a primary or as a secondary attribute of everything. If it were a primary attribute we would be implying that everything moves on the axis of Design. If it were secondary we would be taking Design as a disposable decoration that can be ‘sprinkled’ into anything. The former gives Design an elitist avant-garde flavor; the latter makes Design average and purely fanciful.
Not offering enough clarity, but still wrapping Design in slippery generalizations, added to the charisma and enigma of Rand’s statement.
Paul Rand was not creating a theoretical body of work when saying: “Design is everything”; he was doing PR work. PR is at work when one creates ambivalent meaning in a precise clear way, targeting the leaning of one’s intuition or unconscious towards the desired outcome.
During his talk to Apple’s employees about the ‘Think Different’ campaign Steve Jobs expressed: “Marketing is about values. Nike sells commodities; they sell shoes, yet when you think of Nike you feel something different than a shoe company. They don’t ever talk about the product, they honor great athletes. That is who they are, that is what they are about… Apple at the core, its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”
It is this ability to take something particular (computer, shoes) and decontextualize it through universal values without ever referring to the underlying commodities or, rather, re-contextualizing them as ‘footnotes’ to these values that precisely targets the leaning of the unconscious back towards the cheerfulness for these very commodities. Paul Rand’s and Steve Jobs’ aesthetics come thus full circle through PR.
Genius and Simplicity.
We might be tempted to think that it takes a genius to put such a large amount of people in a soporific state of awe, of stupefaction and cheerful idiocy. But when the tools for achieving this ‘feast’ are secrecy and tapping into the unconscious, genius becomes the labor of a refined passionate and disciplined cunning.
Disciplined cunning is not just cunning, so Steve Jobs was not just cunning. It does make a difference. Disciplined cunning turns seamlessly in Steve Jobs personality into canny, artful, crafty, foxy, savvy and all sort of ‘enhancing-imputing’ attributes. When deceptiveness, subtlety, and simplicity come together, the resulting alchemy can turn anything into its convenient opposite right ‘behind the scene’ and without causing any visible disruption to the way things appear to us. Dieter Rams’ industrial objects illustrate this clearly in his ‘less is more’ aesthetic. Less, literally, means more when the visual quality of the object serves purely to its functions.
Yet, simplicity can only be plainly simple to the simple-minded and when simplicity becomes an unyielding drive over complexity, the clumsily simple can actually damage the beauty of simplicity more than the clumsily complex.
The clumsily simple manifests, no only, but fundamentally as a result of single-minded profit approaches. In one of the many interviews with Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs told him: “I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies. They make some great products, but then sales and marketing people take over the company because they are the ones who can juice up profits.”
Walter Isaacson tells us in “The Real Leadership Lesson of Steve Jobs”, an article published by Harvard Business Review, April 2012: “Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity.” He also refers to a “deep rather than superficial simplicity.” Even, Jony Ive, Apple’s industrial designer, said: “To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.” Such statements deserve further scrutiny.
What’s the point of coming up with a simple solution when trying to solve a problem if not to reward oneself afterward with being lazy and simpleton in a fun, sophisticated way? Complex problems cannot always be solved by simple solutions. Complex problems sometimes require complex solutions. Simplicity can push us into the bad habit of over-simplification. Complexity demands sometimes to be lived through and through.
But then, we should also ask: What’s the point of coming up with a complex solution out of trying to solve a problem if not to reward oneself afterward with being a brave masochist geek in a fun sophisticated way? Problems cannot always be solved by complex solutions. Problems sometimes require simple solutions. Complexity can push us into the bad habit of over-complication. Simplicity demands sometimes to be lived through and through.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., American physician, and poet, wrote: “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Doesn’t such a statement deserve its counterpart: “I wouldn’t give a fig for the complexity on this side of simplicity, but I would give my life for the complexity on the other side of simplicity.”
The question we are trying to answer then (and it is no doubt a philosophical one) is: On which side of simplicity was Steve Jobs founding Apple’s principle? Are those principles really simple or are they just presented as such since they inevitably end up on the side of simplicity? That which is ‘presented’ and how it ‘ends up’ does not seem to ever do justice to the whole story even when the story insists on having a ‘happy ending.’
Referring to the design of the iPod in Newsweek on October 14, 2006, Steve Jobs expressed: “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.”
What exactly could ‘living with the problem’ possibly mean? Some people have turned ‘living with the problem’ into an art form and not in a less successful way than Apple if we disregard large market influences. Some other people have turned ‘living with simplicity’ into an art form too and not necessary by ‘living with the problem’, but rather by gluttonizing simplicity.
‘Living with the problem’ actually tells us nothing unless we consider the scope of the market influence we want to have. Conclusion, simplicity, and complexity are both parts of the journey of finding solutions to any problem and our destination is keeping the right tension between both. Taking side with simplicity was just a circumstantial strategy on which Steve Jobs capitalized his products’ value.
Simplicity is not the first phase of a project or the very last one. Both simplicity and complexity are at the first and last phase and the way they co-exist throughout the project cycle is different. At the beginning complexity and simplicity are entangled in chaos. At the very last phase, simplicity surfaces and complexity is encapsulated but resonates from bottom to top and vice versa.
Complexity is encapsulated in software frameworks and in human intuition, it never separates from simplicity and it never will. Chaos and order are always together, one wins over the other depending on how things are arranged or how we arrange things.
On another note, Steve’s colleagues at Apple often referred to his ‘reality distortion field’ his ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement, and persistence. In that sense, any quality of his character could turn into its convenient opposite at any given time.
It is this geek-devotee-brainwashed-loyalist attitude towards Steve Jobs that turns the definition of genius into a kind of ‘gospel’ and Steve Jobs himself into a ‘prophet’. For many Steve Jobs performed ‘miracles’ during his keynote presentations and his followers, in and out of Apple, went from mentorship to pure worship. Even when he was not much of a Lutheran or a Zen Buddhist he reproduced most of their credos’ core principles in a profoundly secular way.
But genius can only and truly be mastered through the transparency of reason, vis-a-vis with unrestrained access by the general public and without the excessive secrecy and cult rituals that Steve Jobs generated around the launch of every single Apple product upgrade.
The genius of Steve Jobs, accepting he was such, is not based on the rational values of Western culture, but in the persistent exercise of passion and discipline. If the passion was rooted in the Puritan values of that very culture (work and passion in harmony), the discipline came from his half-baked Zen monk life.
Steve Jobs had a passion and a discipline in telling you one thing as a sharp thinker and the opposite as a sharp businessman. Such is the true art of PR. On the one hand, he would tell you: “Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the result of other people’s thinking”. Yet, we ought to ask ourselves: Is this advice for his disciples, his competitors or his customers?
On the other hand, he would state: “We love trying to make the best product in the world for people.” Yet, buying an Apple product is precisely ‘living with the result of other people thinking’. So the rational logical conclusion from Steve Jobs would be: Don’t buy too eagerly into my products, don’t live with the result of my thinking, don’t glutton with them, create your own. But Steve the businessman was too much of a philistine to ever say so.
Apple product core values and existential toolness are built on Steve Jobs’ clear intention to make people live with the result of his thinking. The customers are not an a priori indicator of Apple product success, but an a posteriori marker after the ‘engineering’ of their taste.
Customers living eternally and relentlessly in awe and idiocy with the Apple product were Steve Jobs’ reasons for living. Steve Jobs was not a philosopher, nor a thinker, nor a spiritual individual. He was an engineer of consumer taste. He was the Edward Bernays of haute couture smart devices. What there was of spiritual in Steve Jobs, if there was anything at all, was that, as Edward Bernays once said: He made propaganda with the “hope it was ‘proper-ganda’ and not ‘improper-ganda.’”
Steve Jobs, PR and passion.
Inconspicuous forces have always driven PR’s work and Steve Jobs was a secular evangelic mastermind of such inconspicuousness. We live in a post-Bernays world, not in a post-Freudian one. There is no ‘return of the repressed’ as Freud would have it, and there never will be. We live in a world of transparency engineered by the constant ‘behind the scene’ work of PR.
We shape our thoughts by both our own PR work and by those who use PR techniques to create automatic behaviors influencing the unconscious mind. But, Freud got it wrong and so did Bernays. The ‘return of the repressed’ as much as the psychoanalytical cure for irrational impulses ought to be a free choice for everyone. Furthermore, PR is no longer propaganda and manipulation as Bernays wanted us to believe, it is in the fabric of everything we do.
PR is not just the driving force of competition, but also of cooperation. PR is today so ubiquitous that it feels as if we have the passion to sell ourselves to ourselves even when we are alone in the toilet of our private emotions.
Passion was the metaphysical PR hook that turned Steve Jobs into a secular mythological figure. Yet, passion couldn’t have worked its PR magic if it weren’t presented as universal passion, and not just the passion for making boxes for people to get their jobs done.
One can always make something feel universal and eternal if your brain is conditioned to trigger the neural machinery in the temporal lobes for belief in religion. Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neuroscientist known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and visual psychophysics, shed some light on this matter regarding temporal lobes seizure. The patient during a post-seizure experience, instead of finding the typical personal things emotionally salient, starts finding everything deeply salient, for example, a grain of sand, a piece of driftwood or a seaweed.
Ramachandran believes, that “this tendency to ascribe cosmic significance to everything around you might be akin to what we call a mystical experience or a religious experience.” Somehow, on holding an iPad in your hands, the user has the tendency to believe everything in it is magical no matter how trivial it might be.
Steve Jobs, no doubt, induced this indiscriminate strengthening of all the pathways of the temporal lobe on holding an iPad, obviously without the need to cause any brain seizure. Something similar happens when some real events have such an impact on a global scale that they change in a positive radical way our perception and attitudes towards the most trivial phenomena.
Unfortunately, the iPad effect does not carry on once it is out of our hands and, unfortunately, Steve Jobs was never able to pull the Vernon Gant drug dealer character (from the movie Limitless) out of his hippie past. The iPad doesn’t allow accessing 100% of our brain’s power as the NZT-48 clear pill did in the film. The pill, however, has nasty side effects and it is just fiction. So, not even Steve Jobs ‘reality distortion field’ would have been of much help here. In the real world, a genius doesn’t have to give us pills or iPads for that matter.
The true mark of a genius (brain seizure apart) is not to make others feel his/her genius through the product that he/she sells, but to create resonances through his/her own work that ripples in all directions forwards and back discovering and mutually stimulating other people individual genius.
In the Apple advert, “Think Different”, being a genius becomes a tool for your best investment in the marketplace. In that sense, the legend of Einstein prompts the massification of the belief that anyone might be a patent clerk like Einstein (a genius in obscurity revolutionizing the world). It seems to be just a matter of ‘staying hungry and foolish’ and of ‘having no respect for the status quo.’
However, the correlation and ratio of influences between Steve Jobs and Einstein are quite different. Einstein not only revolutionized science while respecting the Newtonian status quo, but he also revolutionized our whole understanding of space and time in every other field of competence and, as a result, created a new vision of the world, as much the world around us as the world far off.
The validity of Einstein theory holds as universal because it has laid bare all its logic and truthfulness in front of us regardless of any competing idea or market imperative. In Steve Jobs’ case, ‘changing the world’ holds in a very different way.
Apple’s storytelling success has many confidentiality rules. The truth to its universal success has been held in secrecy. Steve Jobs tells us: “If we don’t cannibalize ourselves, someone else will.” In a way, Apple cannibalized iPhone sales by creating the iPad. All this ‘cannibalism’ has its core foundation in the zealous protectionism of Apple’s line products. Allowing competitors to cannibalize Apple’s products might have opened the doors to the diversity and difference Steve Jobs preached, but it would have also lead to competitors snatching the torch of uniqueness from Apple and making better products in their own right.
Business is ruled by mobile, ad-hoc universal values, which are different from the values ruling Science and the Arts. Even when Steve Jobs insisted he was not in Apple for the money, he changed the world one sell at a time by applying consistently and thoroughly one existing vision (minimalism) to a highly focused assembly line of products. Einstein changed the world by creating one vision and one equation, no product line, no secrecy. Einstein’s ‘assembly line’ of ideas was no for sale, it sprouted spontaneously and nourished all sorts of fields of competence.
Steve Jobs created the illusion that his passion was the major contributing factor to Apple’s product success. In doing so, he also created the illusion that his passion represented a universal value that could make anyone’s creation tick. Yet, even when the true barometer of Steve Jobs’ success was in the sales figures, his legacy shouldn’t be. Steve Jobs legacy should have been in the different embodiment of his very passion. As with Einstein, a passion not in competition, nor opposition to anything, but different, truly different. Only when a discovery or invention is translated into many fields of competence and enriches life itself beyond the products that ensue from it is there a true legacy that lives on.
In a meeting with software developers during his come back to Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs stated: “I don’t think it is good that Apple is perceived as different. I think it is important that Apple is perceived as much better. If being different is essential to doing that then we have to do that. But if we could be much better without being different that would be fine with me. I want to be much better I don’t care about being different. We have to be different in some way to be much better. But that’s the price.”
Steve Jobs was struggling with two different paths. One comes from the liberal arts and tends to make things more lasting. The other comes from technology and tends to put short life span into products so they can be made better next year and attract more costumers. In the interview with Charlie Rose regarding Pixar, he expressed: “The ability for a film like Snow White to live for 60 years… That’s very different than the technology world that I come from. Most of the technology product we do… You are lucky if they live 10 to 15 years.”
We can see here the clear demarcation between being different and being better. Such was Steve Jobs inner struggle. Technology per se doesn’t seem to be able to create something lasting and the liberal arts come to the rescue as the perfect suitor to save it, not from obsolescence (it can always build itself on layers of infinite upgrades), but from not having the timeless values that even ancient ideas still have. There are everlasting ideas and emotion that the liberal arts have which can only be embodied by technology by mean of progress and an infinite assembly line of upgrade and innovation.
Out of this conflict, Steve Jobs legacy did not leave room for truly different passions. His legacy has been reduced to the propagation of his own passion as a passion for his products, his business savvy. Such passion in many cases has become an uncontrollable addiction to own his products rather than his creative drive. In that respect, Steve Jobs passion amounted to an invisible marketing gimmick, a powerful one but nothing more.
The gimmick is invisible because it is passionate. It was the passion of true PR work carried out to perfection. At the heart of his passion, Steve Jobs was a victim and guinea pig of his own PR work. In order for one’s own PR on oneself to work, one cannot be aware of it. For the same reason, the consumer can’t be either. You have to buy into hypnosis for hypnosis to work, Freud knew this quite well and his nephew, Bernays took full advantage of it.
A gimmick is not just a gimmick. It can become something else in the hands of a great PR evangelist. A gimmick can turn seamlessly into devising, adapting, contriving, excogitating, pondering and all sort of ‘enhancing-imputing’ attributes. A gimmick can also discredit a brand or person through negative PR. A gimmick can turn into deceiving, misleading, dishonest and all sort of disgraceful attributes. It is the work of PR to give the right direction to the natural bending and ambiguity of words and situations.
The iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air, the iPad, they all do their best to create your own little portable paradise. They are your intimate secluded spiritual PR mascots. Your soul can’t help itself, it falls like an angel into your hands and becomes one with the device. The iPhone is a fallen angel, not primitive Lucifer, but cute harmless, benign Lucifer doing its best to do all the thinking for you all the while gifting plenty of stupidly adorable fun. It whispers candidly: ‘Stay hungry; stay foolish.’
You might not be aware, but Steve Jobs’ soul is tactile, you can feel it when you swipe your finger over any Apple device. My cat can too! Steve Jobs tactile presence as the ‘form’ and your data as the ‘content’ both indistinguishable create the artwork of your intimacy. Such intimacy generates a passion for your ‘stuff’, for what you do with your iPhone.
Yet, Steve Jobs will never be the true mascot of your passion that your iPhone is. On being asked about the secret to his success he stated: “You have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing… because it is so hard that any rational person would give up.” You would definitely give up your iPhone if it were too hard to use, wouldn’t you?
Steve Jobs passion, which faced hard things to overcome, is radically different from the iPhone’s passion, which tries to mollycoddle your thinking and senses. The iPhone’s passion is created out of pure consumption, but Steve’s passion is created out of production, creativity, and hard work.
Which of these two passions would Steve Jobs like you to favor the most, the passion for the iPhone or the passion of/for Steve? If you chose the first one, you fatten his bank account; get a lot of things done quickly with fun but at the price of a lot of distraction. Ah, and the collateral damage of becoming an iPhoneholic. If you chose Steve’s passion, you either become an Apple employee or Steve Jobs’ competitor.
So, for the very nature of what Steve Jobs did his advice ought to be vague enough not to give away too much of his ideas. At the same time the ‘gimmick’, the PR work, is to feed the hunger for answers from competitors as much as from consumers. Steve Jobs was not a genius in general. He was a great businessman, and at best, a genius businessman.
During a rare interview by WGBH-Boston in 1990 Steve Jobs, answering to the question of how important is a user interface in the design of a computer, stated: “Well, the whole idea of the Macintosh was a computer for people who want to use a computer rather than learn how to use a computer.”
There are many ways in which we could read and simultaneously witness the current and future materialization of this statement. I propose three ways each one leading to the next:
1- Well the whole idea of the Macintosh was to create a product for people who want to consume that product rather than learn how to consume that product.
2- Well the whole idea of the Macintosh was to create an environment in which people would know how to do things rather than learn how to do things.
3- Well the whole idea of the Macintosh was to know rather than to learn. If knowledge can be achieved without learning we wouldn’t mind not learning at all.
Yet, in order to get rid of learning altogether, we would have to know automatically. Then we would not need to think at all. Thought would become instantaneous, executed in no time. Thinking would be that which a computer would do for us without us needing to think. The only thinking that would remain would be thinking about how to think less.
Eventually, we will win the battle against thinking, a battle for delegating thinking to magic, magic defined as sensuous programs and their interface. When that happens, computers will do all the thinking for us. Once magic takes over, those owning such magic will become our consulting oracle as it was in ancient time at Delphi.
Steve Jobs’ passion has made of him our priest Apollo, with any Apple device becoming the priestess Pythia at the Temple of our inner lives. Yet, the body of the monstrous Python still lurks beneath the invisible jolly vapors rising from the surface of our enchanted iPad.