Steve Jobs – a Man and his Devices

Posted on October 14, 2011


From a Guest Blogger:

The garden is mourning,

the rain sinks coolly into the flowers.

Summer shudders

as it meets its end.

Herman Hesse

Many have mourned the passing of Steve Jobs, in testament to a legacy of ingenuity rarely equalled in recent years. Even those with only half an eye on the media and on developments in personal computing could hardly have missed the impact of his Apple on human activity, at work and in leisure alike, over three decades. We have seen field upon field of endeavour absorbed into one or other of Apple’s devices. The legacy of Jobs, however, also witnesses to human frailty: none of us is the indomitable, invincible creature/creator of dreams and ambitions. Deep down we are aware of it. Our increasing dependence upon contrivances such as those marketed by Apple highlights the point.

There was always something attractive about Jobs as a public figure. He was a fount of seemingly boundless and stylish creativity. In the production of intuitive computing devices he was second to none. The very ‘human-centred’ nature of his designs was, for Apple devotees, a refreshing escape from nerd-oriented computing. At the same time, he came across as richly human. His media persona was that of a man who kept business and private lives apart. Jobs ensured his privacy without dramatic ostentation.

This latter is surely to be applauded. Some distinction between a life lived in the public eye and a private, family life is necessary, but so is that between human beings and the things they use. No device, no game, no virtual reality will ever worthily substitute genuine human interaction. However ingenious his devices, they could never tell us what it was to know Jobs as a friend. Computers may make our lives a little more comfortable, but they are incapable of creating friendships. Only rational and preferential choosing, common engagement in mutual interests, a sacrificial giving of time to one another, and a genuine care born of affection can achieve that. Steve Jobs doubtless had such personal friends, and the sombre but affectionate message on Apple’s website suggests a CEO interested in more than building a company with a growing share value. However dazzling the media-hype or the adoration of Apple’s fans, it is, as in the case of any human being, to the family and friends of Steve Jobs that we must look for the measure of his life. Those who loved him best will grieve most genuinely.

Devices can be quantified and tested. It is possible to predict how they will behave. This cannot be said of human persons. We may be clever, but we are not indomitable. We may crave consistency, but cannot stand boredom. We may be tempted by undemanding relationships, but will always, if wise, return to those who make demands precisely because they love us. If his devices are any indication, Steve Jobs had a good understanding of his fellow human beings. He was able in some measure to humanise the use of computers, and to make them a little easier to use, but in so doing he did not – nor could he have intended to – create substitutes for friendship.

Let us salute a great inventor while we mourn a man in all the richness of his personality and human frailty. After all, no one ever mourned a photocopier. There is so much more to a man than his tools and devices.