The Beliefs of Others

Yesterday, I built my first Windows machine after nearly a decade of Macs, and Steve Jobs died.  I can’t seem to keep the idea out that I somehow, on a supersticious mystical-fortune-cookie level, caused this.  I feel this certain shame, feeling that I, with my Android phone and Windows computer, have abandoned Jobs — and then, I realize he has succeeded in his ultimate endeavor: creating the Belief of Steve.  Jobs built himself a religion, and now we will see the extent of its faith.


In his already-famous Stanford speech, Jobs insists on the importance of belief. For him, and other daring entrepreneurial types, that belief is in the future.  For the masses, though, that belief, by and large, is the belief of others.  At Stanford, Jobs insisted on avoiding dogma, “the results of other people’s thinking”.  However, that is exactly what Jobs — very intentionally — created.  A dogma for the people; something to believe in.  The Apple logo has been shown to invoke the reaction from an Apple fan that the crucifix does from a Christian.  As I surfed the frenzied net last night following Jobs’ death, I came across the image above, and was suddenly reminded of the religious imagery, now complete with its Messiah: The One Who Saw Things Differently.  I say that with certain skepticism, but I see the larger ramifications.  As I’ve come to understand technology a little better, and accept it as the central focus of my life, I’ve come to expect a not-too-distant future where a worship of technology is commonplace.  Messiah now firmly immortalized, the tenants of religion have been fulfilled.

Personally, I am ever more inspired by Jobs.  Though he understood and leveraged the fact that most people don’t believe that the dots will connect later, he encouraged us to believe in our gut and intuition.  His achievements as an inventor and businessman are unquestionable.  We have lost a luminary, and a world leader, and I too am deeply sad to see him gone so soon.

However, I don’t accept Jobs as the messiah of the digital revolution, and don’t accept his dogma any more than any other dogma.  Yes, Steve Jobs did for the computer world what Henry Ford did for the automotive world.  But Ford did it without creating a dogma, which is all the more dangerous in the digital space: with a computer, power, and the internet, a motivated person has no limits.  It doesn’t take factories, or even a formal education: the digital revolution means affordable tools for anyone to create anything they want.  This revolution signifies the first time that each individual person has access to all the information, and all the power: let’s not throw that away by subscribing, as we are so accustomed, to the results of someone else’s thinking.  Open-source, Net Neutrality, and the right to modify your own property are the three most important ideas of the digital revolution, and I, for one, stand for freedom — libre and gratis.

Charging for the SDK and publishing access is like putting a massive premium on pencils.  It’s to the benefit of the serious authors of the world, and moreover the people who make the pencils, but actively prohibits the curious.

Steve would probably say that the process is not so wicked: it’s the wind that blows away the chaff.

Steve would give you the book, but never teach you to write.

~ by Jono on October 6, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Beliefs of Others”

  1. Wow. That image kind of set me off too. I hadn’t seen that yet. Jobs represents quite a lot of things: innovation, business leadership, walled gardens, and propaganda. Simultaneously pushing people away from mainstream corporate greed and toward “open source”, yet supplying a pay-to-play model in doing so.

  2. With all the talk about Jobs as a visionary, I’m reminded of an Intel commercial, ironically portraying Ajay Bhatt as some kind of rock star. The commercial is funny because of the absurdity: this sweater-vested mustached Indian fellow is quite the unlikely celebrity. In fact he isn’t really a celebrity. With my obsession with computer technology, I didn’t even know who he was until I saw the commercial.

    I don’t deny that Jobs exacted a major change in the computer industry, and that he personally was responsible for the massive about-face that Apple went through when he took back control of the company. However, just like the admittedly talented (some of them) stars in Hollywood, he represents a body of work that spans many more than one person. Do you think that Shia Lebouf was the star or Transformers? What about the army of people at ILM who gave life to the imaginary mechanical beings that he starred beside?

    But that just won’t do. We can’t have 100 fat, sweaty nerds sitting opposite morning and late show hosts promoting the movie, we need a marketable figurehead. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, and Jobs didn’t invent the Personal Computer. They were both men who saw an emerging technology that would change the world, and they were the ones who made the right decisions to lead the pack. Arguably, they made their mark, ford with the assembly line, and Jobs with the “so-simple-grandma-can-use-it” interface decisions, but it always bothers me that history overlooks the true innovators.

    Ford would have had no product without the internal combustion engine, which was largely developed in Germany, France, and Britain. Jobs wouldn’t have had the iPod if not for compact hard drive technology, developed by engineers at Toshiba. Apple and Jobs put a sexy cover and selector-wheel around pre-existing state-of-the-art technology, and all of a sudden Apple revolutionized the music business.

    In a recent conversation about Jobs (pre-mortem) a friend asserted “You can’t deny that [Jobs] changed the game.” To which my reply was “Yes, of course, I guess I’m saying that I don’t like the way he changed it.” I look at technology innovators like Linus Torvalds and John Carmack and think “these are my heroes.” They’re celebrities in their own right, but developers foremost. I can’t presume to know their motives, but from what I’ve seen, they like making cool stuff, and that’s why they do what they do. These are the people I want leading the Computer Revolution, not businessmen like Gates and Jobs, or Schmitt.

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