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We need more *real* Jobs

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by , 12-27-2011 at 12:06 PM (1482 Views)
Count me among those who've just about had it with all the recent Steve Jobs adulation.

So that I don't get hundreds of flames in my inbox from those who adore Apple products, I'll preface my comments with a few disclaimers. My first "real" computer (after the Commodore 64), was an adorable little Apple. And I worked hard to buy the next version, and the next. In college, I sold Apples- quite successfully, I might add. For all my image editing, I love my Apple. I wish every operating system were as intuitive and stable. So I am certainly not anti-Apple, and I thank Steve Jobs for the very high standards that he brought to the industry.

All that said, this shortsighted admiration of Steve Jobs needs to stop; the world needs to hear a bit more from cranky oldtimers like me who lived through the transition from papers to DVDs and saw how it affected American society. From my perspective, we've become a culture of disposable, replaceable, nondurable, self-obsoleting electronics and software. And far too often, we buy for want , not for need. And we even dispose of our new gadgets irresponsibly as well.

To top it off, so many of these objects we adore are made overseas, often in truly wretched circumstances, in places mostly invisible to the American media, with no labour standards and wages that an American kid with a lemonade stand wouldn't tolerate. Apart from a few Jobs and Gates and Bezoses, does anyone really profit from our consumer culture?

Recently, I read The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen- I recommend it highly. In this provocative little book, we learn that the iPod has "created less than 14,000 jobs in the U.S." It's instructive to contemplate how many units have been sold in the U.S., versus how many jobs were created abroad. Surely I am not the only one who finds Steve Jobs surname just a bit ironic. And come to think of it, my college job selling Apple computers wasn't exactly well paid, considering how many units I moved.

As an educator, I worry a lot about how the next generation will find inspiration to create and to find employment. Some of my students will be lucky and find some highly paid, virtual occupation as a manager at a desk, like I did. But what if they want to use their hands to do something other than type at a keyboard? What if they want to build something great? Will they need to go overseas? We probably won't have any manufacturing capacity to build the flying saucers, even if one of our ingenious kids designs one.

Above all else, I cannot tolerate the hyperbole with which Steve Jobs is compared to other great American industry and technology entrepreneurs. There have been been far too many headlines prcolaiming that mr. jobs was the greatest this or that. Look, Steve Jobs is up against Ford and Edison and Eastman and Bell and Land... and many, many more. Between them, those inventors created tens of millions of jobs, and not just within one generation.

Recently, while flying at night over the U.S. and surveying the glowing cities and mile after mile of highway full of cars and trucks, I realized just how transformative Ford and Edison's contributions were. Yes, those two men may very well have marketed their products for personal profit, but the implications for the country and the world were enormous. Chances are that you and I have employment today because of them.

There is a real problem with modern American gadget culture. We seem to have forgotten the difference between need versus want; between durable versus disposable; between innovation versus fashion; between
plastic and metal. And between genius versus merely clever.

Perhaps it's too early for me sound this alarm: historians will count the real contributions of Steve Jobs and his contemporaries, many decades from now after all the hype has tamped down. But my real fear is that the historians will point to this generation and all its virtual consumption, and find only impermanence, convenience, and greed.


  1. keithwms's Avatar
    Perhaps an interesting footnote to my rant- many labor violations have been detailed at Apple facilities:




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