Advertisements

Blog Archives

Death Of A Salesman: Some Christian Reflections On Steve Jobs

Here is my text, and it is taken from a friend’s Facebook profile. She said she

does not feel the need to either beatify or demonize Steve Jobs. I acknowledge that his presence on earth had a significant effect on human history.

I  only own one Apple product: an iPod. Why don’t I own an iMac, a MacBook, an iPhone or an iPad? Firstly, because I can’t afford them. Secondly, because there are certain diplomacies in our family, when a close relative works for Microsoft. Yes, Windows frustrates me at times, and perhaps it would be nice to have a product that allegedly ‘just works’, but that also means re-educating the entire family to a new operating system. Besides, like a car mechanic who doesn’t mind owning a lesser car because he can fix the problems, I can often work out (at least with the help of Google) what to do when we have a problem, and I learn as a result.

Ultimately, finance and functionality are the reasons I don’t buy Apple. It would be nice to have the aesthetically pleasing designs, but on a limited budget the bang to buck equation is about getting the specifications I need. Apple aesthetics are a luxury I can’t afford. But certainly I have to acknowledge that was one innovation Steve Jobs brought into computing. Not for him the world of beige boxes, the man who studied calligraphy wanted products to beautiful as well as simple and workable. Might it be that especially in the free churches, we so concentrate on function at the expense of beauty that we are utilitarian Christians?
I bear Steve Jobs’ family and friends no ill. But in the days since his death, a lot of twaddle has been written, and a lot of Diana-style hysteria has been expressed. Cult Of Mac seems exactly the right title.  The secular website Gawker got it right, I think: Steve Jobs was not God. We have heard that Jobs ‘gave’ us various things. No, he didn’t: he sold us things. (And dreams, too.) Or that he ‘invented’ things. No, the inventors were Steve Wozniak and his successors. Jobs was a salesman and a showman. That isn’t necessarily wrong, either: it just depends how you exercise it.
The genius of Jobs (if genius is not an overused word) was not as an originator, but as one who took products that were failing to reach the mass market and transforming them into propositions that did. The Apple II was not the first personal computer, the Altair 8800 had beaten it, but arguably the Apple created the market. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but he popularised it. Likewise, there were tablet computers before the iPad, but he bossed the market and made it attractive. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Jobs was the technological John Wesley? Wesley mostly took existing theological ideas and made them explode with power (the one exception, perhaps being his doctrine of Christian perfection).

If Jobs had an area of originality, I would suggest it was iTunes: he took all the sanctimonious moaning of the recording industry about pirating, and forced them into a fairly reasonable pricing model. Other download sites have since, in my opinion, rushed through the open gate created to provide a better and often cheaper service.

Then, although selling is a dirty concept in Christianity, I have to admire the man’s enthusiasm in his product unveilings. Having famously taken such detailed interest in the precise design of products, I take the excitement he projected when unveiling a new toy as utterly genuine. For those of us in the church who have got tired, jaded and cynical, a dose of Jobs’ passion for what he introduced – even though we do not sell the Gospel – could be good for us.
Jobs has been compared to various people in the last few days, from Thomas Edison to Walt Disney. Whatever the merits, I suggest two British comparisons: Richard Branson and Felix Dennis. Like Jobs, they were ex-hippies who made vast fortunes in business. Dennis, perhaps, is the most striking, as the editor of Oz magazine who was imprisoned, but who now heads up the Dennis Publishing empire. Compare that to Jobs, who dropped out, travelled to India, took LSD and took up Buddhism – although where his Buddhism influenced his business is far from certain. At least his arch-rival Bill Gates set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Perhaps nowhere is Jobs’ post-hippie business philosophy better seen than in his famous Stanford University Commencement Address of 2005. While it also contains powerful statements such as those on how the certainty of death should focus everyone’s life (he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before), some of it is a shallow, individualist, follow your own road creed. If you don’t have time to watch the entire fifteen minutes below, the text with annotated commentary can be found here.

And he finesses the story in places. Is it true that ‘Windows just copied the Mac’? More likely it’s true that both copied the GUI (Graphical User Interface) they saw at the Xerox PARC Research Center.
I have no desire to be cruel about Jobs. I leave that to the nasty words of people like Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, whose comments at the time of Jobs’ death were so foul I shall not even link to them here. But I do wish there was a sense of realism. Jobs was the visionary and extremely clever CEO of a consumer products company. Yes, a massively influential one. But just as Princess Diana’s funeral overshadowed the death of Mother Teresa the day before, so on the same day as Steve Jobs died, a hero of the American Civil Rights Movement also passed away, the Revd Fred Shuttlesworth (as the Gawker article I linked to above notes). Which one contributed more to the kingdom of God? That has to be a Christian question. Because for God, it is less about the feted celebrities and more about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Rest in peace, Mr Jobs. May your loved ones find comfort in your passing. But may the rest of us stop getting carried away.

Advertisements

Personal Update

Just thought I’d include a quick personal update, because blogging over the next two or three days is going to be tricky. Tomorrow sees another trip to the vet for the new cats, an ECG at the GP surgery as part of the background checking on my blood pressure situation, a family haircut crammed in between the end of school and Rebekah’s weekly Rainbows, then out early evening to Bishops Stortford for a meeting in the Methodist District for those ministers and circuits where a minister’s current invitation runs out next year (as mine does). Then it will be up early Tuesday morning for admission to hospital and the nasal op I keep droning on about. 

So with that in mind, if I don’t get to post tomorrow and Tuesday, please understand! (I think you will.) 

Today also has been one of those times where The Two Ronnies would have said, ‘In a packed show tonight’. On the surface, not a demanding day: two communion services, one at 11 am, the other at 6:30 pm. However, we always try to do something with the children on a Sunday afternoon, to maintain some pretence that Sunday is a family day. So when I arrived home around 1:15 pm, Debbie had sandwiches ready, they had to be gobbled, and it was off to town with the little monkeys.

Mark (who is still storming ahead at home and school with his reading skills) had been given a book by his teacher on Friday about art. He had got into the notion of ‘public art’. That seemed to mean – er – graffiti, and I don’t mean Banksy. So he and Rebekah were excitedly pointing out all sorts of public art as we walked along the river into the town centre. Thankfully, they didn’t notice the ‘art’ I saw which featured words beginning with ‘f’.

Rebekah bought a Princess Diana doll at the church May Fayre yesterday, and we found her a cheap book to help her understand who she was. (Diana died 1997, Becky was born 2003.)

BBs didn’t have any ice cream so our usual treat was out – the kids opted for combined red and blue slush puppies instead, and we took some bread to feed the ducks. 

Back home for me to cook, Debbie to have a bath, and when I’d gobbled my pasta, salad and garlic bread, it was time for evening service. Back home afterwards, it was all domestic tasks for an hour or so before finally sitting down.

I’m typing this while wifey watches the double-episode season-closer of Lost.

I guess it’s been a typical minister’s Sunday?

See you soon.

Coins

Yesterday, I visited my parents. It was a good opportunity to see how Mum was getting on since we heard she (thankfully) had TB, not cancer. Dad has since been prescribed antidepressants: the strain of this episode, preceded by Mum’s fall last Christmas, and the prolonged saga of the house move last year have taken their toll on an eighty-one-year-old.

They treated me to an excellent lunch at a favourite pub. Then we returned to their flat for conversation, before tiredness meant they needed a rest and I made an earlier than expected departure.

During that chat, I mentioned a story from the other day. Rebekah had been looking at some coins and had noticed the date. This had fascinated her, especially a twenty pence piece from a galaxy far, far away known as 1982.

Dad got up and went out of the living room. I thought nothing of it. However, he returned with a bag. It was a collection of coins, many of them specially minted for state occasions and still in their presentation sleeves. There were crowns to mark the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981. There were two wallets of Britain’s first decimal coinage. Then there were assorted loose coins, including some old sixpences. One of these came from the reign of King George V in 1922. 

Dad explained that he wanted them handed down the generations of the family. He asked me to keep them safe for our children. While they would be worth more than their face value, they would not be especially valuable, because many of them had deteriorated. However, they would be a fascinating and educational possession. I was delighted, and locked them out of sight in the car boot when I drove home.

It was a joy to come home and tell the children I had a present for them from Grand-dad. In the short time before bath-time, it was impossible to explain the significance and context of these coins to Rebekah and Mark. How on earth will I explain pre-decimal currency to them? I was only a fortnight shy of my eleventh birthday when Britain was decimalised.

And if Rebekah finds 1982 hard enough to comprehend, what price 1922? George V is three monarchs before the current long-reigning Queen (I’m including Edward VIII, even though he was never crowned). 

Pounds, shillings and pence and early twentieth century kings will take a lot of patient dialogue and explanation. There are so many foreign concepts to go through in order to make sense of Grand-dad’s gift.

Is it not similar in evangelism today? With, say, three largely ‘unchurched’ generations there is a huge gulf between the Christian community and most of society. (And that gulf may go some way to explaining the misrepresentations of our faith in the media – it isn’t all wilful, much is a genuine lack of understanding.) Evangelism is about being in for the long haul to explain the faith in a context of dialogue. I see the point of those who say that a contemporary repeat of Billy Graham’s Harringay crusades in the 1950s with their remarkable levels of conversionss most likely would not happen today. It isn’t that I think God is incapable of it – of course the Holy Spirit could – but it is to recognise that Graham was able to appeal to a residual faith and call people back to it. There is hardly any such residual faith today. 

Our faith is like a 1922 George V sixpence. To most people it appears not to be legal tender.  It looks battered, but it is valuable. Nevertheless, to explain the significance takes time.

But the investment of time into relationships as we gossip the Gospel is immensely worthwhile. We are sharing treasure with people.