People are complicated.
There’s no man that’s purely good or purely evil. No man does good things for the world without sometimes doing some bad things. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is to focus on one aspect of a man while whitewashing the parts you don’t like, or you’d like to forget. It’s a natural reaction to have a skewed view of history when someone dies, to don the rose-covered glasses when looking at their accomplishments. And that’s what I’m seeing a lot of right now.
To judge Steve Jobs on just the positive things he’s done is at best, naive, and at worst, willfully ignorant.
Yes, this was a man who helped introduce personal computing to millions of people for the last few decades. This was also a man who, despite having the foresight that his time was short, spent the last year working rather than with his family.
Was it selfish to put work first because it gave him more joy? Perhaps. But that was him. And he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, trust anybody else to make the types of decisions he made. Was he correct? Maybe, I don’t think it was right.
It is also ignorant to place the burden of creation of Apple’s products on him and him alone. There are thousands and thousands of employees who not only did the work in creating, refining and releasing the stuff you’re reading this on, but were responsible for the genesis of much of the ideas in the first place. These people deserve as much of your gratitude as Apple’s CEO. Remember, this was a man who, rightly or not, thought he deserved as much of the credit as possible, putting his name on 300+ patents in Apple’s portfolio. This was a man who gave his friend and partner, Steve Wozniak $375 out of a total $5000, early in their career, when Woz did all the coding work for a project and had agreed on a 50/50 split. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to give gratitude to the Apple products you’re using.
Don’t misunderstand me; I think Steve Jobs was a brilliant salesman, a fantastic presenter, a cunning businessman and a person who could take someone’s idea and brutally refine it into its shining core. He was someone who could shape taste by telling people what they wanted instead of reacting to what the public told him. But he was also a man who denied paternity for his first daughter, Lisa, whom he named a computer after, for two years while she and her mother lived in poverty. (They’ve since reconciled.)
Steve Jobs also had a major hand in Pixar, a company that’s delighted children and influenced others with their heart-filled storytelling and fantastic animation. He’s also a man who only gave half a cursory fuck about working conditions in the factories in China that made his products–just enough to make sure public perception of his business was correctly influenced, and no more. He’s also a man who was only philanthropic, especially compared to Bill Gates, when it mattered to Steve Jobs–even when personally suffering a potentially terminal illness that, who knows, could be eradicated with millions or billions of research dollars.
You can’t have one without the other. You don’t get a man who’s ruthless in business, making his suppliers, adversaries and colleagues all fear him without getting a man who’s unsentimental and equally ruthless in his personal life. The brain doesn’t work that way. You can’t just shut off one part of you and power on another at will. And we shouldn’t be blind to this.
Am I supposed to feel sad about his passing? I didn’t know the man. Maybe I’m too close to it all, because of what happened last year, to have any kind of perspective on the matter. Maybe I’m missing the empathy gene. Or maybe I’m just reacting the same way I would to a death of anyone else I don’t actually know: sad on a philosophical level, but neutral otherwise.
I want to be clear. This is not a way to inject myself into the discussion, as I’ve seen countless people do on in the last 24 hours. I also realize the irony that even with this disclaimer, I’m in some way inserting myself into the discussion, but try and believe me that that’s not my ultimate goal. I’m doing this because I have absolutely no right to tell you how to feel; I just want to express how I’m feeling. All this is is a selfish exercise to get my thoughts out of my head and into the world. Nothing more.
In the end, you may ask, was he a good man, or a bad man? It doesn’t matter. Steve Jobs was a man, and that’s enough.