Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm Jealous of Steve Jobs

I have a confession to make.

I'm jealous of Steve Jobs.

I'd love to be able to love only my loved ones, and freely express contempt for the people I don't love.  I'd love to be able to bully my way into projects, boardrooms, and design studios and dazzle everybody with my wonderful ideas, while I push people to depression and divorce like a slave driver.

I'd love to have billions of dollars in the bank and not have anybody complain about how I'm not spending any of it on charity.

I'd love to create products environmentalists love so much that they can't bring themselves to complain too loudly about my suppliers in China who are fouling their countryside while manufacturing those products.

I'd love to have the time to dither away on inconsequential decisions and abstract concepts, foisting my opinion of aesthetics on others and claiming it's simply superior to anything they could have imagined themselves.

I'd love to be able to get away with all of this, and at my death, be held in admiration and sheer awe, rather than pity and shame at all my faults.

Because Jobs created so many good things, his life apparently has been indemnified from all of the bad things he perpetrated on other people.

Yeah, he was a miserable person, but a fabulous genius, whose temperament and petulance can be waived in light of all the ways he changed our society for what we consider to be the better.

When I make mistakes, and complain too much, and think my ideas are better than somebody else's, people feel free to say I'm wrong, that it's not my place to point out other people's faults, and that my opinion is only worth the same as anybody else's.  And my detractors believe they have the legitimacy to put me in my place because I'm not creating fun new toys for them to play with.

In our consumeristic society, I suppose that's to be expected.  After all, I'm not generating wealth, or providing employment, or re-imagining new processes for accomplishing tired tasks.

I'm not even always right!

Not only, however, do I lack Jobs' obvious marketing prowess, I've got the same sins he had - just not on as public and visible a scale.  Our society has far more people like me in it - people who could be just as belligerent and horrible as Steve Jobs if we had his influence and charisma, but who've never been blessed with his ingenuity.

So he got away with stuff you and I could never get away with.  That's why I'm jealous of Steve Jobs.

Except apparently, according to his own biographer, he committed the one unpardonable sin:  he denied God's deity.  So in the end, what did he really get away with?

Great people come and go.  Jobs will be remembered throughout our generation - and likely beyond - as one man who was able to change how we use computers and telephones, select and listen to music, and read books.  He's a historical figure because nobody else had these ideas, or the ability to ramrod his version of them onto our culture's mainstage.

And I suppose it's to my discredit that I'm more jealous of him than I am willing to silently sit by while others praise his accomplishments and shrug off his frailties. Yet to the extent that our society celebrates achievement without acknowledging the price of that achievement, I feel compelled to go on the record, for what it's worth, and point out the reality of Jobs' legacy.

I repeat: he got away with stuff you and I could never get away with.  Why?  Because hardly any of us consumers ever had to work with him.  Or, rather, for him.  Quite simply, there was no grace in his life.  I admire his products and his ability to personalize technology just like you do.  But at the end of the day, or in this case, at the end of life, that's not what counts, is it?

Call me a flawed human being if you like, because that's what I am.  I'm jealous of Steve Jobs, yes, but at the same time, I'm thankful that I've not had to struggle with what must have been the enormous burden of ignoring the pain I was inflicting onto people around me as I charged through life on my own terms.  You might find this hard to believe, but I want to be gracious, even when I'm not.  I want to help other people, even when I'm frustrated with them.  I want to accept what other people can't be, just as I want other people to accept what I can't be.  I don't want to shut off my connections with other people, for the very same powerlessness over mortality that drove Jobs to hate on-off switches.  So I try being gracious, and I ask God to help me because I know that my jealously of Steve Jobs could easily manifest itself in trying to be and act like him.

Instead of Him.

Jobs appeared to have relished the self-glorification he and his admirers labeled as perfectionism.  People appeared to have been expendable in the pursuit of products.  We like to think that encouraging your loved ones and your co-workers to operate at their full potential is a good thing.  And it is.  Expecting them to operate at their full potential on your own schedule, however, is not.

If Jobs achieved greatness by flattering people with the former and wasting them with the latter, and society doesn't mind that formula, then I guess I'll never be great.  Even if I ever do come up with a clever idea to sell.

But... as God is my Help, I think I can live with that.

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