EDITOR’S NOTE: We welcome Jennifer Roche to CatholicVote.org as a guest blogger for the month of November. Here’s an article she wrote for us examining the business practices of Steve Jobs, who died October 5.
Before Steve Jobs no business leader had been elevated to celebrity-cult status. Since the announcement of his passing, he has been mourned like a superstar, and the world over has heaped accolades on him. But has there been a fair assessment of the man—his successes, weakness and flaws? I believe it has been grossly romanticized.
In CNN’s eulogies we are asked to, “imagine, for a moment, a world in which Steve Jobs had never lived. How might daily life be different?” CNN and other websites offer sites where you can recount how Jobs has changed your life in topics listed as “Steve Jobs and You,” and how “Jobs made people happy.” President Barack Obama and Russian president Medvedev said Jobs has “changed the world.” Tom Brokaw characterizes Jobs as “the spiritual leader of our time.” Another commentator says Jobs was “out of place, out of time.” Sounds a bit like a God.
Of course, Jobs should be remembered as the visionary Chairman of Apple who ushered in an exciting new era of innovative technology. But aren’t some of the above tributes a bit over the top? After all, he wasn’t divine. Also for the blissfully unaware, there are some things about his legacy that have been whitewashed and deserve further critical examination.
First, no one can deny the absolute excellence of Apple products. As a machine, a tool, they function beautifully. I say this as I type on my gorgeous, silver MacBook Pro with back-lit keys, which always leaves me in that ‘oh yeah, Apple state of mind.’ Although I am an Apple fan, the excessive, indiscriminate praise that I found everywhere has left me a bit worried.
I had discovered that many news sources, who are generally far more probing into social issues, had given an unfair pass to Jobs.
Sure he was talented, admired, a technology genius and rich. All this leads us to believe he was not only very gifted, but super, super rich—at the time of his death his wealth is estimated to be 7 billion dollars.
But is this all society has to emulate? All told, would we call Jobs wise? And is it really fair to pretend that his mission on earth was so magnanimous? In fact, one cannot gloss over that there have been serious controversies and scandals.
After reading the Jobs’ praise, I did some simple research on the company only to stumble on some rather unsavory information. I was horrified to find multiple stories implicating Apple of human rights abuses in their factories.
At Foxconn, a major factory that produces iPhones and iPads, there were so many suicides that the company had installed nets to prevent future jumpers. Workers were also forced to sign, “I will not commit suicide” forms. In these factory-towns, workers live in dormitories with 7-12 people a room, and the employees work 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week.
Although an Apple a day may keep the conscience away for many, it must not for those who care about social justice. There are many sites popping up on the Internet asking all to voice their disgust with such blatant worker abuse. (http://makeitfair.org/documents/apple-campaign/apple-campaign.pdf)
Mike Daisey is working hard to alert people to the conditions of the workers in Apple factories.
Are we also forgetting that while Jobs was an analytic and creative genius, his spiritual view of the unseen science—that of Divine grace and communication not on iPhones, but with prayer—was woefully absent. For instance, he banned the Manhattan Declaration app that would defend life to be available on Apple products—a rather dramatic set-back for religious freedom.
Also, many publications praised Jobs for taking an anti-pornographic stand, banning it from their apps. However, the story doesn’t end here, and the company should have said so to be totally honest. You must filter out objectionable material with parental controls or with OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) to prevent any pornography sites from being accessed.
In these troubled times, many want to rest our hope and faith in technology. The youth are especially vulnerable to this temptation. It is becoming increasingly difficult to speak of God and hear God when the iPhones, iPads and iPods are on 24/7.
However, for the young no single brand represents hope, as does Apple. This is perhaps why even at the Occupy Wall Street, Jobs is giving special treatment. He is given “get out of jail free card. The protesters moved him straight into the realm of the “beatified”. After all iPods and iPads send their anti-corporate “we are the 99%” messages around the globe.
While just as Jobs’ products are used to generate Wall Street billions, they saw no irony in mourning, or celebrating, this billionaire while opposing many others who are just as wealthy. At the Occupy Wall Street, there was even a moment of silence for Steve Jobs.
To paint a portrait of the man as the “spiritual leader” or the man “who changed the world” we make murky the waters for what is truly spiritual, good and grace-filled. Jobs was flawed, and his legacy has the good, the bad and the ugly scattered throughout. It is unworthy to sweep under the rug the Apple manufactures’ scandalous worker conditions when reviewing Jobs’ career and contributions.
Yes, Apple products are excellent, and Jobs, a Buddhist, should have been much more involved in the manufacturing of its products since Buddhism proclaims peaceful co-existence between man and his environment—and certainly does not advocate pseudo labor camps.
In conclusion, Jobs’ greatness was largely defined by a secular, worldly viewpoint. Missing from almost every report was a more rounded assessment of his virtues and defects. A more dispassionate appraisal does not suggest a cynical belief of free markets, but rather insists that serious inquiry be given to issues of social justice and freedom of religion. It is a shame that for many, it will require a chainsaw to get through the mythology of a man and his enterprise to see the truth.
I guess there will always be apples created by God, and those created by man. Eulogizing Jobs as a demi-god, however innovative, puts many at risk of glossing over what is most important in life—the all holy God who is forever the apple of our eye and founding a truly just society here on earth.
Jennifer Roche has authored many articles for Catholic publications including the National Catholic Register, Inside Catholic, Crisis Magazine, the Catholic Herald (London, UK) and written a travelogue on the Maltese Islands called Cat Tails from Malta. She has also contributed to GodSpy, ISI college guide, MeloMag art magazine, Absolute Arts, and the Henry Koerner Artist Review.