A Non-Paean to Steve Jobs and Apple

God rest Steve Jobs’ soul, and may St. Joseph pray for him.

I prayed for the man when I heard he had died–something I always do when someone passes away. And I expected the accolades to follow, which they have. And I don’t begrudge that, for the man certainly created many wonderful gadgets and even stood for some moral principles.

Apple has managed quite a coup: they are a huge corporation making billions of dollars that has managed to paint a picture of themselves in people’s minds as “different,” and “the underdogs.”

So much so that the Wall Street protestors slamming CEOs and big corporations make an exception for Steve Jobs. Even though he was the CEO of an enormous corporation who made money hand over fist.

As a software developer (and a Catholic), I see Steve Jobs and Apple a bit differently.

Apple is one of the most proprietary companies out there. They gobble patents and try to block competitors. They lock out other software platforms, frameworks, and APIs from their devices, forcing developers to use their stack only. And they charge a high premium for their products.

Undercover at Foxconn: (Photo: Southern Weekend)

They exert powerful influence over their suppliers and will jump ship if someone else can create a component slightly cheaper. They seek the cheapest labor they can find, which has led to a bad working environment and suicides in their Chinese manufacturer. See also this article on “undercover at Foxconn.”

In short, they act like most every other American corporation: profit is the overriding concern, not the dignity of the human person.

So while the devices they produce have been innovative–my first computer experience was on an Apple IIe playing Oregon Trail in elementary school, and the iPod/iPhone/IPads are great–I don’t think Steve Jobs and co. should be looked on as heroes.

May God rest his soul, and may companies prioritize the dignity of the human person over the demands of Wall Street and the almighty dollar.

I know I’m in the minority here, so I’m open to hearing the defense for Steve Jobs and Apple on these issues.

25 thoughts on “A Non-Paean to Steve Jobs and Apple”

  1. He is given too much credit for many things. What would the computer industry look like without him? Hard to say. He had a genius for developing user interfaces. He knew what was technically possible and what the average person would respond well to. That was a huge gift.

    One thing I appreciate about him is he wanted to keep porn out of his app store. Not sure if it was for marketing reasons or for moral reasons but he really took a stand there. I pray that Apple continues to respect that.

    1. Brandon, that surprises me coming from you, since you are such a techie guy.

      In my experience in the corporate world, “kind people” don’t make it to the top: you’ve gotta have a killer instinct and be brutal. I recall a story of Bill Gates: he would sit in on a meeting where some junior guy was presenting his idea/plan for a product, and Gates would sit there quietly until suddenly he would interrupt the guy and blurt out What the F are you talking about?! This is all “crap”! To try to throw the guy off, mess with him, see if he could take it.

      I don’t know if that story is true, but Joel on Software worked there and corroborates this modus operandi: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/06/16.html

      1. I don’t think I wrote clear enough. I meant “you were in the minority but not alone” in reference to the author of that article, not in reference to my own opinion.

        I actually have a much higher view of Jobs. Much of that article was speculative so I don’t know, for instance, how much he gave to charity or what kind of boss he was.

        But outside of Jobs, I don’t know anyone in the last hundred years who has more uniquely lived out the creative command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Through Apple and Pixar, God’s artistic, creative fingerprint was seared deep onto Jobs’ soul. Would that God gives us many more creative geniuses and that Jobs finds redemption in the next life.

  2. Abby Johnson is posting on face book that Apple donates to Planned Parenthood. I am very curious about this. Anyone have any suggestions how to find out?

    1. Hi Kelly,

      I don’t know how to find out. The only thing I turned up was that allegation that they match employee donations to Planned Parenthood, which is bad but not the same thing as directly giving them money as a corporation.

      My company does not match donations to PP, citing the “controversial” nature of the organization.

  3. There are people who claim that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should not be honored because they owned slaves. We remember them for the legacy of freedom they left to us.

    St. Jerome struggled with a bad temper. He would treat people with whom he disagreed with an appalling lack of charity. Yet, he is still a saint.

    Steve Jobs was not perfect. He was known as a particularly difficult person to work for. He denied he fathered his first daughter whose mother had to support her on welfare at one point before he had a change of heart years later. He was not an example of philanthropy (then again, his intense protection of his personal life suggests he was not the kind of person who would advertise that anyway).

    None of that diminishes what he did accomplish. It is likely his products will influence user interface design for years to come, and the products he designed had far reaching benefits that he likely did not even see when they were being built http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/10/steve-jobs-disability/

    We can admire Steve Jobs for certain aspects of his life while not embracing his shortcomings, just as we do with the founding fathers of our country and the saints of our own church.

  4. Devin,

    I am very glad you posted this. As society continues to lose focus on God, it replaces Christian virtue and heroism with secular equivalents. So, in many cases today, a super-rich individual (not singling Jobs out here) is praised and honored for being rich, and being rich is king. “If Mr X was rich,” people think, “he must have some noble qualities.” Too often the super-rich of today are more about getting their name immortalized with the idea they did good while on earth (e.g. secular humanist endeavors, donating to PP), when in fact their true legacy was vice.

    In reality, as you point out, the vast majority of the super-rich individual and companies didn’t get there in honest fashion, but rather through extremely unChristian means, be it outright thievery, exploitation of workers, or what not.

    In regards to the iPhone, I consider it utter thievery and sinful the way they make it $70 per month. They know most people cannot afford this, but the great majority of those signing the contract won’t think about true cost and thus get in serious financial trouble.

  5. Hmm. I read the two articles on Foxconn that you linked to, though I didn’t watch the videos. I feel rather conflicted. I grew up with Apple products and don’t think I could ever buy a Mac. I recognize that working conditions in factories are poor. At the same time, I wonder how much of this can really be laid at Apple’s doorstep – from the articles you posted, it sounds like the working conditions would be the responsibility of the companies to whom they outsource things. Or perhaps my perspective is somewhat skewed, as I’m married to a waiter – and so I have a closer view of people who would willingly work illegal overtime. From the brief undercover article, the working conditions honestly don’t sound horrible – just harsh. Also, they are being paid the legal (Chinese) minimum wage, and “This super factory that holds some 400,000 people isn’t the “sweatshop” that most would imagine. It provides accommodation that reaches the scale of a medium-sized town, all smooth and orderly. Compared to others, the facilities here are well-equipped and superior, with employee treatment meeting standard specifications.”

    …I don’t know. Would it be more ethical for Apple to manufacture all of that in the US? Possibly. Would it be ethical for Apple to insist on American-style (or even half-that) wages in a country where minimum wage is so much lower? Possibly not. It could have extreme implications for the economy. I recall stories from missionaries, about how it actually makes it worse for household employees to pay them more than the going rate….

    In conclusion, I’m glad I’m not a CEO, and I will keep buying Apple products. Please, don’t take this as criticism – it’s more thinking aloud..I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts you have to share, or more info.

    As to Steve Jobs himself, he revolutionized computer design and then smartphone design and tablet design. But he was only human.

  6. No grand thoughts on Jobs I’m afraid, but I just HAD to write in to say:

    YES! Oregon Trail! Some of the greatest memories of elementary school, man! I would try to save up some money and then blow it all on ammo so I could go hunting — by far the best part of the game. I mean, c’mon, you could shoot in EIGHT different directions! :) Heh heh…

    1. Kevin, so glad you loved that game too! For the first year or so, the Oregon trail version was an old one where when hunting you just shot straight ahead and tried to “time” it when the deer ran across the screen. I remember everything being black or green in this version. You couldn’t do much.

      But then the new version came out that allowed you to walk around, shoot in eight directions, and had good graphics. The same version as you are talking about. That was when it got awesome. Fun fun fun!

  7. “Apple is one of the most proprietary companies out there. They gobble patents and try to block competitors. They lock out other software platforms, frameworks, and APIs from their devices, forcing developers to use their stack only. And they charge a high premium for their products.”

    Proprietary, blocking competitors, my way or the highway? Sounds like a Church I know well. Perhaps Apple’s success is like the Church’s: not watering down, maintaining standards….

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