Thursday, 6 October 2011

Death of Steve Jobs

Like a great number of people and given that he was a complete stranger, I was - perhaps strangely - saddened, when I heard the news of the death of Steve Jobs this week. I kept hearing commentary on the radio about how he had changed the world and people's lives etc. and initially I thought of Henry David Thoreau. In Walden, Thoreau wrote about how the invention of the telegraph had radically changed the way that people communicate but simultaneously questioned whether its invention had actually contributed anything to humanity at all. What was it that people were using these new means of communication for? Had it elevated the level of discourse? Or had it just increased the volume and speed of idle chatter? I must confess to viewing Steve Job's accomplishments with the same jaundiced eye and had no thoughts of blogging about his passing.

And then as I (an expat South African) sat at the traffic lights here in Sydney with my iTouch on the dash, in the German car next to mine sat a young Asian guy and he was scrolling through Apps on his iPhone. And it struck me, not only the global impact that his company has had on communication, but that it had in fact, affected my life - and profoundly so. Between my wife and I we own 2 ipod shuffles, an iMac, 2 iphones, an Apple TV and an itouch. Still I wouldn't describe myself as an Apple fanboy - Apple's censorship of Apps that are at odds with its political or social agenda has never endeared me to the company. By all accounts, Steve Jobs was a ruthless and self-centred man who had a singular vision that drove him to eventually achieve the success he attained in business, but whose personal life was... well less admirable. Whether or not he could have achieved what he did any other way is a question, I don't know the answer to. Could he have been successful if he had paid the makers of his products a just and living wage instead of shipping those jobs to China? Am I not complicit in that decision by owning and utilising his products? All hand wringing aside, as somebody who constantly travels as part of my job, I am now able to listen to podcasts and talks from all over the world and pray the Divine Office through apps on my iTouch and phone. I am instantly in touch with family and friends all over the world in an immediate way I would otherwise not have been able to be. I have learned things and heard speakers I would never had had the chance to hear if it were not for Steve Job's contribution to technology.

I am just sorry he experienced life as isolated as he did. In one of his more well known addresses at the Stanford commencement in 2005, he said that Dogma is a trap of living with the results of other people's thinking. I was recently doing an assignment in Canon Law and tracing the history of one of the laws of the Church that dated back to the year 252. It made me aware of the rich treasure and privilege it has been for my life to be part of a community 2000 years old - I felt the hands of my older brothers and sisters reaching across the millenia to guide me in my search for truth - not a fossilized Dogma, but a dynamic engaging Dogma of Aquinus, Augustine, countless Bishops and theologians that meant I never had to reinvent the theological or philosophical wheel but could explore world's infinitely further than I could ever have reached on my own. How sad it is that Steve could not acknowledge the debt he owed to those that informed his own journey - and even his business ideas - whatever he could see was a result of standing on the shoulders of those that went before him. Rick Warren perhaps put it best: The problem with self-made man is that he usually worships his maker.

In human terms, Steve Jobs was a technological visionary and a man of immense creative talent and I tip my hat to him in gratitude for the way his inventions have enriched my life. But I can't shake the fact that his lauded vision was ultimately comprised of technological trinkets. In entrusting his soul to the mercy of God, I pray that he may experience the wonder of the Beatific vision that simply dwarfs to an infinitely exponential degree, his own.

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