Standing in front of the San Francisco Apple store the night after Job’s passing, I witnessed the Apple faithful placing memorabilia, apples, and flowers three feet thick on the sidewalk. Emotionally moving personal messages on colored Post-it notes to the fallen Apple CEO completely obscured the windows. Young and old, construction workers and college girls — all were visibly upset. But why?
This may sound insensitive, but Steve Jobs was not exactly the warm and fuzzy type that might inspire such an outpouring. He once fired an assistant for failing to connect his office with high-speed Internet in less than a day, parked in the handicapped spot at Apple and made his secretary move his car, and called employees’ ideas “dumb” to their faces. Yet here we are getting misty-eyed every time we hear about the guy in the black turtleneck from Cupertino, the guy who got fired from the company he started only to come back with a creative vengeance that changed computing and our culture forever.
I have a theory. It’s actually something we lack in ourselves that makes us miss Mr. Jobs so much. It’s the fear our inner-innovator may never come out or, if it does, might get us fired with less than the sensational results of Mr. Jobs’s famous sacking. Yes, we have a corporate culture that pays lip service to Apple like innovation but in reality innovation is at an all time low. We are not crying for Steve, we are crying for ourselves.
The 60s radical professor Howard Zinn said something like this: “Society imitates through art what it lacks in practice.” The example Prof. Zinn used to give was 60s television. While race riots and Vietnam protests stormed the streets, television was full of bucolic shows like Bonanza and Lassie. “What Lassie? Timmy’s trapped under a log in the high meadow?”…segway right into the harsh reality of Viet Cong body counts. Steve Jobs’s melding of art and technology in Apple products was exactly the sort of art reacting to our broken creativity Prof. Zinn was talking about.
I really hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see much innovation going on outside of Apple when I look around. What I see is a tech industry blindly following Apple’s every move: the Zune, Android, and take your pick of counterfeit iPads. Even worse, our current top selling cars are mindless imitations of 60s and 70s originals like the Mini, Bug, and Dodge Challenger. Television is producing anti-feminist 50s shows with alarming dogma like “Pan Am,” “Mad Men” and “Playboy.” Our most influential art form is circling the nostalgia drain with forgettable remakes including: “The Three Musketeers,” “Footloose,” “Planet of the Apes,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “The Thing,” and, to top them all, a remake of “Willy Wonka.” Sacrilege!
When a society is locked in a nostalgic feedback loop it cannot be a good thing. Steve Jobs despised nostalgia so much he removed older Macs from displays on the Apple campus because he did not want employees to look backwards.