11 October 2011

Steve Jobs more popular than Michael Jackson?

At first I was surprised at the way the death of Steve Jobs dominated Twitter and other social media sites. I hadn't seen anything like it since the death of Michael Jackson. Then I thought it was probably because the people I follow on Twitter and similar sites are more interested in computers than in pop music.

But then it seemed that it was actually pretty universal. Millions mourn because he touched the lives of millions.

He didn't really touch my life much, though. At least not in a good way.

I once played some games on an Apple ][ computer that a friend had borrowed from work.

I was an avid reader of computer magazines in those days, and one of the things that they all praised Apple computers for was their open architecture. You could put all kinds of third-party cards in them to make them do things that went far beyond their original design. There was a card that had a Z80 processor on it (remember those?), which made it possible to turn an Apple computer into a CP/M machine, and run all kinds of interesting software.

Then the Apple Mackintosh appeared, and it had a decidedly closed architecture, and I lost interest. I played with one in a shop once, in the days when it was a kind of oblong vertical box with a monochrome screen, decided I didn't like it, and that was the last time I played with an Apple. Oh, there was one other time, when a student whoe thesis I was supervising got an Apple laptop, and we had enormous problems transferringt it back and forth so I could read and comment on it.

More recently we bought a gadget that is supposed to convert audio tapes to digital format. It is basically a tape player that runs off a USB port. It cost R500.00, which was quite expensive for what it is, but I thought it would be useful if I could convert all the tapes I have lying around the house and then toss them out.

When I got it home and opened the box, however, I discovered that the gadget only converted the tapes toApple's iTunes format, which is virtually useless, except for commercially produced music tapes that have "tracks". Most of the tapes that I have are speech, or mixed speech an music. The ones I want to convert are mostly research interviews I recorded for my masters and doctoral theses and other research projects. So I spent R500.00 to convert three music tapes I had, and could have bought the CD versions in a record shop for a lot less. There was nothing on the outside of the box the gadget came in to indicate this limitation.

I think Apple took a massive wrong turn when it switched from an open to a closed architecture.

So, though I agree with John Donne that "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind" I don't really see Steve Jobs as someone who has benefited me in any way -- rather the reverse. And still less do I see him as a benefactor of mankind. Meet the workers dying to meet your iPad 2 demand
If you're frustrated at being unable to buy an iPad 2, spare a thought for the Chinese workers who may never be able to afford one of the shiny new gadgets but are literally dying to get them out fast enough to meet Western demand.

A new report into conditions at Apple's manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has found slave labour conditions remain, with staff complaining of being worked to tears, exposure to harmful disease, pay rates below those necessary to survive and military-style management that routinely humiliates workers.

Though to be fair, it is not only those who are waiting for an iPad who are contributing to those working conditions. When I booted up my computer this morning, which has no connection with Apple, the first thing that appeared on the screen, in big white letters on a black background, was Foxconn.

So perhaps it is worth quoting the rest of John Donne's meditation from his Devotions upon emergent occasions:

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die. Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is.

The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another's dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

And perhaps that links to Charles Williams's idea of coinherence.

But that is really a topic for another post.


Chris H said...

My Apple][Europlus could boot Apple Dos or CPM/86 depending on what diskette you used to boot with.

As with you he didn't touch my life as I couldn't afford to be touched or to live with the restrictions his software placed upon me.

Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation wrote after Jobs had died:

"Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died."

which sums it up quite nicely for me.

Did Apple take a 'wrong turn' with it's adherence to closed software and hardware? The shareholders might beg to differ.

Graham Downs said...

I'm not an Apple person, and never have been. In fact, lately I'm less and less of a Microsoft person, having slowly fallen in love with Linux over the past two years.

But Apple, and Steve Jobs in particular, did more for information and communication technology than simply the Apple computer, the iPad or iPhone. They are responsible for almost every way in which we interface with technology today.

The idea of using a mouse to control a little cursor on the screen was originally Apple's. The idea of using little pictures (icons) to represent concepts, instead of text, was Apples. Most major fonts today were either created by or derived from Apple fonts.

The iPod revolutionised the portable music player, now produced by hundreds if not thousands of different manufacturers (including "no-name brands"). With the iPad and iPhone, they pioneered multi-touch and capacitive touch, which is today used by practically all touch screen smart-phones. (instead of clumsy styli)

Microsoft, on the other hand, have never actually had an original product or technology in their entire existence. While Apple's success lies in innovation, Microsoft's success lies in clever acquisitions and marketing, and bullying tactics.

THAT'S why I think Apple (and Steve Jobs) did so much for the world today. Even if you don't own a computer, but you own or use a smartphone for your job, or listen to music in your pocket, you probably have Apple to thank. If you DO own a computer and understand how to use it, you probably (indirectly) have Apple and their innovations to thank.

Graham (Sorry accounts.google.com appears to be down right now, so I can't sign in) :(

marcuse said...

Perhaps this is the latest example of the "famous person dies, everyone suddenly thinks they 'knew' them and is touched by their death, outpouring of emotions follow, famous person is beatified in public consciousness" syndrome. By all accounts Jobs was a rather unpleasant person to work with (technical term: "asshole"). I'm rather unmoved, in the same way you describe.

Roger Saner said...

Steve, you can easily use iTunes to convert m4a files to mp3's - so your tape -> digital converter isn't useless!

marcuse said...

There's a good appraisal of Steve Jobs here:

Sam van den Berg said...

So Steve Jobs discovered hieroglyphics 6 000 years after the Egyptians, and 2 500 years after they were made obsolete by the alphabet. What kind of "greatness" is that? If someone could discover a way to get rid of all the silly hieroglyphs on my computer screen and keep only the alphabetic descriptors, THAT would be true greatness. What a silly wolrd we inhabit.


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