Infinite Loop 4: “Is Steve Jobs Laughing at Us?”

On March 6, 2000, in Features, by David K Schultz

We were going to continue our series
on the attachments persons have to the Mac today.
But, then we read the Fortune magazine article
and interview of Steve Jobs. We could not let
this opportunity go by without commenting on it.
So that is what we will do. But in a way it also
dovetails nicely wit the article we were going
to write today.

There are three elements
that stand out about this Fortune piece,
among others. They are the element of vindication
in what Jobs says, Apple’s relation to Microsoft
and the maturity of Steven Jobs. We think these
are important to the Mac Web Community. The
Mac Web Community seems to share only one of
these three elements. Not to put too fine a
point on it, but the Mac Web Community seems
to lack the same relation to Microsoft and the
maturity which Steven Jobs has. That is, perhaps
the two things some Mac web sites do not share
with Jobs is doing what’s best for Apple, even
if that means swallowing one’s pride, and realizing
that one’s ultimate happiness and self-worth
are not connected to the Mac. Read on . . .

When we read the
piece, we tried to look at it through Jobs’
eyes and not our own. And then, we tried to
look at the Mac Web Community through those
same eyes, through Jobs’ eyes, the eyes we tried
to ascertain to look through after reading the
article. Putting ourselves in his place the
best we could, we arrived at the conclusion
that Jobs must look on parts of the Mac Web
Community with some humor, if not with an element
of the comical.

Vindication

First, the element of vindication
is something we seem to share with Jobs. Recall
the story. Sculley and the board get rid of
Jobs. He takes key employees with him and starts
NeXT. It really did not go anywhere by all accounts.
It produced a lot of neat technology, but nothing
marketable per se. Jobs was lost, and for the
first time unsuccessful it seemed. When Sculley
left and after Spindler, Amelio came on as Apple’s
man. He bought Next and gave Jobs some say in
Apple. When Amelio left Jobs stepped back in.
The rest is history as they say. Now, most of
the technology from Next is being used in strategic
ways by the new Apple. Jobs is asked whether
this is “sweet vindication.” He answers, “I
suppose if you were writing a book, this would
be a great plot line, because the whole thing
circles back . . . It’s a good ending.” He adds,
“Once all this plays out, I think we’ll all
feel vindicated–those of us from Next and everybody
at Apple.” Jobs, always the competitor, lived
this history and the success he is having must
be very sweet indeed. Living well is the best
revenge.

Sculley was out of his element
at Apple. Jobs mentions one of the disagreements
he had with Sculley is that Sculley wanted to
produce high-end, expensive enterprise machines
and Jobs wanted to produce consumer machines
for about $1200 not $10,000. Anyone who knows
the story must know what Jobs is feeling. Imagine
creating a company with your own ideas an initiative.
It becomes a monster which eats you up in the
end. Sure, you are to blame for some of it.
The young Jobs was rude, mean and dictatorial.
But, Apple was his baby after all. I might do
the same things he did. There is even some of
this today. An Apple tech from Cupertino told
me recently “He sure knows what he wants, that’s
for sure.” Read between the lines: He wants
something and we have to get it done. But look
at the results. Now he’s back and doing well,
with a softer edge but the same capacity for
vision. It must be sweet vindication.

Vindication indeed. Vindication
is not vindictiveness mind you. Vindictiveness
is a bitterness which seeks revenge. But, vindication
means “to reclaim a possession, proved true
or correct.” I do not know whether Steve Jobs
is bitter. I might be if I were him. But vindication
is the subtext. Jobs has reclaimed Apple as
his possession. He has also proved to be right
on many things. (A look at my stock portfolio
is enough here.) In a sense, what Jobs did when
Amelio bought Next and asked Jobs to at least
be involved in Apple was to come in and taken
over Apple. History has reversed itself: Apple
didn’t take over Next, Next has taken over Apple.
Did Jobs have this in mind five years ago? Was
this the plan all along? We can not know. But
vindication is the subtext. Anyone who goes
nuts for the home team in the big game against
an arch rival knows what Jobs must feel.

We think this same type of feeling
is what draws so many Mac sites to Jobs and
garners his general following. He’s our team,
and we want him to win. When he wins so do we.
We felt that an injustice had been done when
Sculley did what he did (though Jobs was surely
the locus of some of early Apple’s problems).
And now we are back in the end zone winning.
Forgive some Mac sites, like this one occasionally,
for the in-your-face comments about Sculley
and directed to PC users. But it’s our team.
I think most Mac sites share this sense of vindication.
I think long time Mac users do too. We hold
our heads high with chests puffed out. Our team
is winning again because its leader is back.
Mean while, Sculley makes disparaging comments
about Jobs on ZD TV.

Doing What’s Best for Apple

This takes us to Microsoft and Bill
Gates, the second element we saw in the Fortune
piece. Read what some of the Mac sites have to
say about Bill Gates and Microsoft. Read the history
of the personal computer and look at the pictures
of Jobs and Gates. To many Mac users, Bohemians
by heart, Bill Gates is not one of them. But Jobs?
I too in the seventies had personal journeys of
self-discovery; I too spent much of my earlier
years discussing philosophy and religion like
Jobs (and now I get paid for it in teaching).
I didn’t go to India like him though. If there
is anything that connects the many Mac sites it
is a mutual distrust and I might even say hatred
of Bill Gates and the feeling that Jobs is one
of us. Or at least he used to be.

But, Steve Jobs looks on this with
humor we are sure. Recall, it was Gates that bought
the $150 million in shares to help jump start
Apple in 1997. We hated it. We booed and hissed.
It was the devil himself. We think using Microsoft
software is a profanation of our pure Macs. We
just don’t get Dell and AOL and Windows. Wintels
are second-rate we say. I can not even mention
what some sites write. We have on this site made
strong comments. But not Jobs. He says he just
had dinner with Gates in his home. They were joking
about being the gray haired ones now not the young
Turks anymore. Sounds as though they are friends,
uh? On good terms even. Yet in the same breath
Jobs says that Microsoft is copying QuickTime
and iMovie. Again reading between the lines, we
sense some ambivalence in what Jobs says. He says
people like Microsoft are copying Apple but ”
. . . I don’t mind. I don’t mind,” says Jobs.
Is he trying to talk himself not minding? We don’t
know. At least they are on speaking terms.

How many Mac webmasters and editors
would go to Gates home for dinner and jokes? Okay,
a few would love to see the house. But, some would
end up lecturing Gates on aesthetics and fairness,
if not anti-trust laws. We don’t trust him, and
we surely do not trust or like Ballmer. I have
a hard time even thinking ethically about them
(my own ethics that is, which my character intact).
We think their stuff is second best. We think
they ripped us off (and they did). They are just
geeks. And this is to put it mildly.

We think the animosity which so
many Mac sites show Gates and his company is not
shared by Jobs. After all, they are two guys that
did it. There must be a fraternal feeling among
them. It might be awkward and stressed but there
nonetheless. Apple does depend on Microsoft right
now anyway, though not totally. Jobs wants what’s
best for Apple. And part at least of what is best
is not losing Microsoft support, at least right
now. So there seems to be a kind of symbiotic
relationship involving friendship yet ambivalence.

I share the same ambivalence we
see in Jobs’ interview. This article is being
written in Word 98 part of the Office 98 package.
It is a fine program, sometimes. (We are waiting
eagerly for AppleWorks 6 and will see how far
we can migrate over though.) PowerPoint is used
in the philosophy department I teach for in classes
(I do not use it though). It is not bad. My wife
uses Excel quite a bit. We do avoid Explorer though
but we will accord version 5 a fair hearing. Yet,
we don’t like them, not the programs, but Gates
and Ballmer and Michael Dell. Jobs on the other
hand has the maturity which many of us lacks:
To look at what is best
for Apple even if that means working with the
likes of Gates. Perhaps he thinks some
web sites do not have Apple’s best in mind; in
fact he may believe that they actually hurt Apple
(think of the rumor sites, sites we know for a
fact that Jobs dislikes). It is like having to
work two jobs, he might tell us, and hating one
of them. We do it for our families nonetheless.
We do what’s best for the family and swallow our
pride. Maybe many Mac sites, including this one,
need to have the same view: Look
to what is best for Apple even if that means changing
our approaches to Mac commentary. It is
obvious why he does this: He loves Apple Computer,
his baby, because love always requires doing what’s
best for the beloved even if that means we go
with less. Maybe the rhetoric, focus and goals
of some Mac sites would change.

Growing Up

Finally, Jobs shows much maturity.
The Woz was asked about Jobs at the last Expo.
We do not have the exact quotation, but it was
to the effect, “I think Steve has learned a lot
about life in the last few years.” Read between
the lines: Steven Jobs has grown up. He has a
peace about himself, a calmness and coolness even.
He said he’s made his fortune in the interview.
So it is not the money, or the jets or the stock
options anymore. He talks about the new dot com
millionaires losing “rewarding experiences in
their unfolding lives,” and wonders if they are
just interested in the money instead of building
a company. Jobs says the really rewarding thing
is not making a company but helping it grow. “It’s
like when you’re a parent,” he says. See the maturity
here? Woz is right, he has learned a lot. Middle
age and kinds do that for a person.

This maturity comes out in the
last line of the article in which Jobs is described
as taking a walk with his wife and telling her
that he plans to stay with Apple for “at least
four or five years.” This is the language of a
person who knows who he is, someone centered as
it were, with ego intact. He has done it all.
What else is left to prove? There are still pessimists
out there who are waiting for a slip, perhaps
Sculley among them. But, Jobs doesn’t act as if
he needs Apple. That does not mean he does not
love it, or that is will not stay longer. It simply
means that he can be happy and fulfilled without
it.

Epicurus,
the Hellenistic philosopher, said that we can
possess material things as long as we realize
they are only “unnecessary and natural.” This
means that they may bring us comfort, but ultimately
our happiness does not depend on them. We may
experience happiness with wealth, but our human
nature doesn’t need it for flourishing. In fact,
such luxuries often cause more harm to our character
than good, he says. But Jobs an Epicurean? Even
Buddhists (like Jobs?), hold loosely to material
things, even companies, since they are after all
ultimately unreal and unnecessary for happiness
according to Buddhism. It does place our attachments
to the world in perspective though, and the larger
context of Apple advocacy generally comes into
focus.

The maturity which Mac sites lack
is seen in these points. It seems, in reading
them, that many people’s happiness depends on
Apple and the Mac. Much of this may be rhetorical
designed to get hits. Some is good hearted joking.
But if Apple was gone tomorrow, many would, in
a word, lose the reason for living, it seems.
(Many might lose their jobs though!) But, Steven
Jobs seems to understand that his meaning and
worth are not tied to such things. Not anymore
anyway. Maybe even Jobs thinks we take things
a little too seriously. It seems that he could
walk away from Apple at any time and have Tevanian
step in. One really never knows though. So we
think that Jobs must look on some of the Mac Web
Community with a comical sense. He does what’s
best for Apple even if that means acquiescing
to Gates; not all Mac sites seem to have Apple’s
best in mind he might think. He has a maturity
and independence which shows that his attachments
to the world and Apple are in perspective; and
he must wonder if some Mac sites have the same
balance, whispering to himself, “get it in
perspective.” Maybe he thinks one can advocate
the Mac too much and in the wrong way. We just
don’t know. Yet when Jobs reads some Mac sites
he must laugh at us sometimes. Think about it
. . .

David
Schultz

 

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