Friday, October 07, 2011
What Is the Steve Jobs Legacy?
"Think different. Steve Jobs didn't make your iPad, Chinese kids did."
Since the products of Steve Job's Apple Corporation are by and large what has made the internet what it is today, it's not surprising that outpourings of grief for Mr. Jobs have been front and center on the internet since he died yesterday, far too young, of the dread pancreatic cancer. By all accounts he was a brilliant man who truly changed the world in ways that define our current era. I currently produce this blog on an iMac, and my professional career is currently based on working on Macs. I love my iPod, and the fact that I have no iPhone to love is a product of my deficient personal economy not aspiration. I post this graphic I found not to disrespect the memory of Mr. Jobs nor to demean his achievements. But I was immediately struck by how direct and important the message of this graphic is, and how superficial and partial are so many of the ubiquitous encomiums to the legacy of Steve Jobs. I certainly don't post this graphic to make anyone feel guilty about their Apple products since I'm guessing nobody but the Amish can claim a life free of the products plucked from the trees of universal corporate exploitation.
To my mind the statement of this graphic is less than a condemnation of Mr. Jobs — though a proprietary relationship with factories employing child or slave labor is highly problematic — but more a condemnation of us as consumers for not remembering that without the workers, children or adults, laboring to produce these miraculous little machines, Steve Jobs was nothing but a man with great ideas. I have my cool iMac and iPod not just because of his imagination, but because flesh and blood people put these things together with craftsmanship and know-how. And the fact that I was able to afford these things is probably thanks to the fact that other people made less money than I to do the hard work of making these things real.
Pondering all of this I did come to another realization: every time in the last twenty-some-odd years I've found myself out of work, I could blame Mr. Jobs and his creations. And here is something not often stated about our current economic condition.
In the 1980s I supported myself as a photo-typesetter. It was a valued craft. The development of desktop publishing via MacIntosh toward the end of that decade killed the typesetting business, and with it my skill-set. I transitioned first to pre-press, and then to the production and creative end of computer-based print graphics. But I wound up working in the music business, and soon iPods and iTunes killed the demand for CDs, and down went the music business starting in the mid-2000s and with it my replacement career and skill-set. Today I am slightly underemployed, working freelance in the print newspaper business at a much lower level than I was before. With the continued internet revolution and the development of the iPad, the grim reaper has his eye fixed firmly on the business model that supports me. I'm not sure at all what I will do when print design finally bites the dust or when the last newspaper goes all digital.
Don't get me wrong, I love the modern technology. I consume it. But talking about the economic crisis, if manufacturing is largely gone from the U.S., and soon fields like mine which once employed millions are obsolete memories, what indeed will we all be doing for work in the future? If computerization and automation combined with outsourcing so sharply reduce the number of people needed to keep the world functioning, it strikes me that all this nonsense the government is play-acting through about "job creation" is so much missing the point. With the one-two punch of technological improvement and the globalization of labor, there really is less and less for Americans to do. Of course, stupid Republicans, the government is going to be bigger, because that's getting to be one of the last places the jobs are. Along with serving bad, robotic food and working for banks or insurance companies to find ways of ripping people off of their money.
It seems inevitable that the much-lauded creative engine of capitalism would contain the seeds of its own obsolescence. Steve Jobs was very very smart: yes, visionary even. But not smart enough to avoid creating a world divided into soon-to-be-unemployed consumers with useless, outdated skills, and exploited, regimented child slaves working their tiny skilled fingers by the piece.
Graphic snagged from Lenin's Tomb.