Sunday, 8 June 2014

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I came out of this biography glad to have and enjoy my Apple products, but equally glad I never met Steve Jobs. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have liked him if I had.

On the other hand, out of such sheer assholery have come some products that I'm very glad to own. Made by a guy who had no compunction about being a jackass. I get the feeling there are a lot of driven geniuses who are also complete jerks.

This is a delicate balancing act, but Isaacson does a good job of holding the two in a kind of equilibrium. It's not a hatchet job, but neither is it a hagiography. And one side of him is never far from the other. Indeed, the perfectionism that drove the creation of great products (sometimes) also feeds into his utter disdain for social niceties.

I've long been of the opinion that there are distinct audiences for different types of computers. PCs are great for people who want to be able to customize absolutely everything, to fiddle and get things to work together. Macs are for other people, like me, who couldn't give a crap about the fine intricacies of computer design and just want something that works, seamlessly, and fails to irritate them.

While there are ways in which I'm uncomfortable with giving up the control over so many decisions that might affect my life, when it comes to computing, I don't have the time to learn what I would need to to make them. In that fairly limited case, and with the right reserved to complain loudly when they make bad decisions for me, I'm happy to let Apple handle making my computer not make me want to throw it out the window.

We'll see how long that lasts after his death. I am unsure.

But of course, Jobs was always so sure he was right that that meant that when he was wrong, he was very wrong. And hard to dissuade. That's not a small problem.

Isaacson has done a good job conveying a complex figure, who exasperates at the same time he inspires. It can make great products. It can also cause huge problems. I'm not sure what else to say about it. It certainly makes me feel conflicted about the man and his legacy. This is one of those classic cases where the biggest assholes do incredible things. Things for which I'm very grateful, like my various Apple devices and the Pixar movies. But knowing they were created in the atmospheres they were, that does change something. Not everything, but something. It makes me more critical. 

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