Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Technology World Without Steve Jobs

Many people are asking what the world will be like without Steve Jobs. Many people are saying that everything is fundamentally different. This is, of course, stupid.

Obviously, it would be equally stupid to disparage Jobs. He was a consummate artist and Apple is as much a corporeal manifestation of his internal world as it is a company. But overly exalting Jobs ignores reality. No one exists in a vacuum. Everyone is a reciprocal entity.

In much the same way as the world of philosophy, a thinker's viewpoint as much represents sentiment of the time as it does his or her own, unique thoughts. They exist together. One does not guide the other. The thinker and the world, the creator and the created, stumble into the future together.

The whole of the market is like a giant game of Ouija, where thousands of hands are guiding things. Not seeing the forest for the trees, looking at things in a quantum way, leads to an inaccurate perception of history as a linear narrative. This person caused this, this person caused that.

For example, do you think that if Newton hadn't come around, the truths of gravity would have never been discovered? If Watt hadn't invented his steam engine, do you think that large-scale steam power would have never been created? Of course they would have. Gravity would have been formulated, steam power would have created the industrial revolution. Aside from large-scale structural differences, the world would look fundamentally very similar.

Great inventions have a weird habit of being invented at the same time, independently, by completely isolated groups or individuals. It's amazing how few people realize this. If the telephone was invented by multiple people, all within a month of each other, why do we hold up Alexander Graham Bell as some shimmering example of human ingenuity?

I admit that many artistic achievements would never have happened if not for singular people. Same goes for stories, or movies, or songs. But in creations bound by a physical reality or the needs of a physical reality, certain attributes of any creations are necessarily guided by the nature of the time. The computer and technology world would not look exactly like it does if Apple had never been around, but it would certainly be recognizable.

This perspective is never popular since it reduces our heroes. It forces us to recognize that no matter how great a person might be or have been, the world would have chugged along perfectly well without her. It also reduces us and our fantasies. We all have fantasies of being someone of great import, but if people are only ever important vis-a-vis other people, and not in regards to some grand, cosmic standard, how can we maintain that fantasy?

Truly, western culture specifically seems obsessed with the heroic, singular person. Look at Ayn Rand. Her philosophy and explicit formulation of a person as a heroic entity is the absolute manifestation of this ideal. Again, we see this in the modern right-wing movement. One hundred years ago, at least those who thought they were the elite were actually the elite: robber barons and whatnot. Today, it's Mississippi.

We can see it again in the wholly Western focus on lost civilizations. Why are we so obsessed with Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, and their ilk? Because all of them were "advanced," even beyond what we have today. It is yet another thread from the underlying belief that great things can happen in a vacuum. All it takes is that "spark."

Did Steve Jobs and Apple change the world? Yes. Would the world have changed without them, simply in a different way? Also yes. His mark is indelibly placed on this planet, which I consider the goal of life. As the world was shifting, he molded part of it to suit his vision. He etched "Steve was here" into the sands of time. But to say that the world would still be in the technological dark ages without him is absurd.

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