To be blunt, the global chorus of praise marking the death of Steve Jobs that continues to resound throughout the blogosphere, up and down my Facebook News Feed and into the echo-chamber of the twitterverse, makes me want to close my MacBook Pro and read a book.
Lest I incur the almighty wrath of Apple acolytes (Appleytes, if you will), may I disclaim: this piece is not intended to downplay the death of a much loved human being nor besmirch the Apple brand. On the contrary, the unprecedented outpouring of grief for a multinational company's former CEO declares Apple has reached the summit and staked its flag on Mt. Brand Loyalty and unwittingly set in train a viral marketing campaign to die for.
I am a proud Apple owner but I am also self-aware enough to know I tend towards zealotry. In Christian Lander's list on his blog Stuff White People Like #82 is: "When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it is important to NEVER, EVER mention Apple Computers in the same breath as [Wal*Mart, McDonalds and Microsoft]. White people prefer to hate corporations that don't make stuff that they like."
In light of Lander's advice, my pretensions to brand loyalty do not go unchecked - a while back it dawned on me that I had a tendency to register a slight McCarthyist queasiness in the presence of a PC user.
Perhaps the most popular verse in the unofficial Jobs Lament is a variation on, "Thanks Steve for the laptop I'm typing this on." Oh dear. Steve Jobs did not single-handedly make anyone's products; in fact, by Silicon Valley standards he wasn't really a techie. Apple Incorporated is comprised of many, many great thinkers but none shone as brightly as Jobs because he was strategically positioned to wear the brand's halo. Christians taught us long ago, it's basic good marketing sense to give a human face to a brand and channel all praise to one man.
To extend the Christian allusion, the "Apple Experience" was all about bringing people into the fold. There are employees at Apple Stores who bid customers farewell by saying, "Welcome to the family." This ingenious marketing ploy of initiating customers into an extended family network, with Jobs as the preternatural patriarch, goes some way to explaining the hyper-inflated outpouring of grief that has followed.
The core of his appeal was not his genius for inventing things but the aura of power he accrued from his mythic Hero's Journey. The titans of the celebrity world eclipse their field and regard their role as maintaining this aura. Madonna was celebrated as an icon of female empowerment less for her capacity as a singer and more for her chameleon-like ability to reinvent herself and capitalise on new trends as a trail-blazing female entrepreneur in a man's world. Steve Jobs will be chronicled as an exemplar for reputation-management. A timely new idol when the significance of managing one's online-reputation in the age of social media is only just dawning.
One of Job's master coups, the retail arm of Apple, with its free classes, extended customer interactions, and general merry-go-round of hoopla, was intended to signal that Apple was not motivated by profit margins but by genuine humanitarian goodwill. As Adam Smith, the pioneering 18th Century political economist, expounded in The Wealth of Nations, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." To this end, it isn't so much the happy dances and drum beating rolled out to welcome someone into the Apple family (its semblance to cult initiation is mildly unnerving for everyone involved), rather, the success of a model operating in self-interest that still manages to win friends, influence people and get rich in the process that has captivated and endeared Apple's loyalists.
Steve Jobs is revered because he legitimated a rugged individualist credo of 'get rich while appearing benevolent.' The way I see it, Santa magically delivers toys to all the good boys and girls of the world in one night whereas Apple's signature world-wide product launches happen in an instant (with the drop of a magic black curtain that shrouds its signature glass palaces until the final moment) and there's no discriminating between good and bad, just who can afford it. We idolise Jobs not despite growing filthy rich on his rise to the mythic status of Santa incarnate, but because of it. Yet it was because Mother Teresa did a lot of good for a lot of people despite receiving no financial incentive that we hail her as a saint. Can someone please explain this disconnect?
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