Friday, October 7, 2011

In Lieu of Flowers

We knew he was sick.

But he'd beaten the odds before.

Recently, it seems the entire world has been mourning the passing of Steve Jobs. At least, the part of the world that can afford to buy his iconic Apple products, and aren't actually starving for a real apple. Job's death on Wednesday at the relatively young age of 56 has sobered his legions of iFans and sparked gushing accolades of his marketing prowess.

It's a response to be expected of the countless technology addicts who've been breathlessly adoring Apple products since the mid-1980's. And it's not for lack of a good reason: by all accounts, Jobs practically single-handedly revolutionized the personal computing industry that Microsoft's Bill Gates helped create.

How Brave was His New World?

Indeed, if it wasn't for Jobs and the incredibly user-friendly Macintosh desktops he designed just in time for my college years, I probably wouldn't be as computer-savvy as I am today. Which, while on one hand, isn't saying much - since I'm not very computer-savvy at all - it nevertheless reinforces the fact that I don't need to be one, at least in order to function in a computerized world! That's been one of Jobs' geniuses, wrenching the formatting, coding, and other complex functionality of computing from each user and hiding it behind a soothing interface that made technophobes like me comfortable with technology.

Even Jobs' competitors owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for opening up the technology market for the masses.

See? Even I can't resist praising Jobs, who, while I admire his ability to put amazing products into the hands of ordinary consumers, led what many insiders have testified was a miserable private life governed by hyper-warped narcissism. A pseudo-Buddhist who eschewed the religion's major teachings regarding care for the environment and human rights, Jobs expected his staffers to care more about his products than their own spouses and families. He manipulated corporate America's twisted admiration for productivity at the expense of a healthy life balance, churning out remarkable products in step with his own myopic dictates instead of market demand.

In fact, one of the accolades frequently lavished on Jobs concerns his ability to create a market for products consumers didn't even know they needed. As if, altruistically, that's a really good thing. To be quite frank, humanity has not needed many of his inventions, have we? All Jobs ended up doing was creating new products by repackaging old media, such as music, phones, books, and the Internet. Plenty of people even in post-industrialized countries across the world live fruitful, satisfying lives without iPhones, iPads, or iPods.

You may love how accessible your music is with your iPod, or how connected with the Web you remain with your iPhone, but seriously: couldn't you live without them? I do, but then again, my life may not be as important as yours.

Not Wasting Youth on the Young

Meanwhile, what's important about these products is how Jobs quickly realized that capitalizing on our society's worship of youth is a good way to make lots of money. One of the reasons Apple kept churning out new products and upgrades was because the dizzying sequence of the latest and greatest fed Western society's insatiable, youthful thirst for the next big thing. It stoked the adolescent appetite for stimulation and instant gratification. Baby boomers, whose generation's addiction to youth Jobs could so easily exploit, found amazing solace in the smooth curves, skinny profiles, and minimalist aesthetics featured in Apple's signature creations. Of course, it didn't hurt that children and young adults were also easily hooked by the cool vibes emitted by the Jobsian aura.

Perhaps what's most disturbing to see, however, in the wake of Jobs' death, is the evangelical community's adulation of a man whose best practices hardly mirrored the life of Christ. He wasn't anybody for whom a person of faith would want to work, or desire to marry, or have serve on their church's board of elders. But many of us treat him as if he was, because in our culture, what a person produces is usually more important than who they are inside.

And at the end of the day - or, in this case, at the end of a life, what's more important?

Incidentally, I also suspect that one of the reasons Chuck Colson and the folks at the Manhattan Declaration have had such an uphill battle getting people of faith to sign their life values pledge involves the antagonism they've faced from Apple. Might people of faith love their iPhones too much to protest against its manufacturer, even if it claims Christianity is hateful? After all, it's a lot easier to ignore the Manhattan Declaration than it is those glossy repositories of gratifying gadgets Apple's convinced us we need.

Not that people of faith have to chuck their Apple products and deny themselves the conveniences they offer to prove their sanctification. Quite frankly, the only reason I don't own any of them myself is simply because I can't afford them. At least, that has been my reason up to now. The more I watch the cult worship of Jobs even at his passing, however, I'm beginning to grow suspicious that maybe I could be sucked into his iWorld to a degree that isn't healthy for me. After all, I'm no better than anybody else who already loves his products, and I can't deny that they're amazing.

Not that I begrudge Jobs his legacy. But unless he recanted Buddhism in his last days and embraced God's grace through Jesus Christ, that legacy is all Jobs will have for the rest of eternity.

Which makes for a somber epitaph. With no new versions to come.
_____

PS - If you'd like to read a far more eloquent essay by the Rev. Patrick Lafferty, who says basically the same thing I do, but with far more grace, click here.

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