(The following article was originally published in the German news magazine “Der Spiegel”. This is a translation into English that I wrote myself. I’m not certain if this is copyright infringement, but I do own the magazine in physical form, and one could argue that the entire text of this post is manually translated, as opposed to copy-pasted. Anyways, enjoy )
There is probably no other company in the world that is so easy-going and at the same time so powerful as the entertainment enterprise Apple. Its founder and CEO Steve Jobs, despotic and multiple times fallen severely ill, does not only determine what we buy – he wants to determine how we live.
It was hot, no shadow in the stadium of Stanford. The students had been drinking, they grinned and giggled, and that is why it took some time until they understood that over there was a ruler of the western world, stepping forward to confession.
His products, recognizable by the bitten apple, are products that mankind demands, because mankind apparently believes that these products alleviate the modern life, and even more: that the modern life consists of owning these products. But the ruler does not talk about himself, usually. He is shy, say some who know him well. He only says something, smiling kindheartedly, when he has something to sell, a new telephone (iPhone), a flat miracle device (iPad) or a new advertisement platform (iAd), or when he, like last week, announces new record earnings: 3.07 billion dollars in the latest yearly quater, 90% more than the previous year. Apart from that he keeps his silence, and he demands silence from all those who he lets into his contiguity, and he does not let others tell him why he, on that June day in Stanford, reveals what his drive is, what he fears, what he thinks – only there, this one time, and never again.
Three stories he wanted to tell, not more. “No big deal”, said Steven P. Jobs, sporting a beard and wearing glasses, the forehead high, wearing black robes, a thin man back then already, before the transplantation. He shivered a little, raised his voice, breathed quickly. Three stories, no big deal.
The first story deals with connecting the dots, said Jobs and told how his mother gave up on him, how he was adopted, how he cancelled his studies, how he had to walk for miles to get a soup until he found a friend and an idea. The dots of his life, said Jobs, were always only recognizable in hindsight, we would have to simply trust. All of us. Trust that these dots will assemble to become a picture, some day, with our instinct, our fate. Steve Jobs had now stopped to teeter. And the students of Stanford were now looking towards the stage and listened.
The second story deals with love and loss. Steve Jobs said, that he, when he was a 20 year old, found what he loved – Apple, his lifework, and that he as a 30 year old was fired, but still ventured on in the computer world, because he loved it. “Sometimes life hits you with a stone, “, he says to the students, ” don’t lose your faith. The only way that you can do a great job is by loving the thing you’re doing.” Was that poetry? Even ethics? Kitchen-psychology? And the third story? The third story deals with life and death, but more on that later.
There are several terms that are used to describe Steve Jobs, “guru”, “genius”, “messiah”, such terms, as well as “dictator” and “oppressor of people”. Because Steve Jobs is thought to be diabolical, a sociopath, and he rightly earns his reputation, which quickly becomes clear once one steps into his world. Apple, once a computer company and today a world power of consumer electronics is an enterprise that is as strong as only few others are and at the same time has weaknesses that are bizarre when put in contrast to its strengths.
This Steve Jobs has created and developed a brand that is cool and mainstream at the same time, the dream of all advertisers. Apple rules the worldwide online music market, the market for music players and is currently conquering the market for high-tech telephones. 8.75 million iPhones were sold in the latest quarter. The iPad, settled between a telephone and laptop, was welcomed hysterically in the USA and is being expected hysterically in Europe, because it could conquer the media and book market in a heartbeat. It has a touch screen, enabling users to control the perhaps most brilliant technology of the information age with archaic finger movements, presses and circles.
Apple, seemingly easy-going brand of the masses is probably the only enterprise in the world that has had a fanatic following for decades. Not a few crazy people, but millions of people for whom Apple is a demeanour. The “New York Magazine” put Jobs on its cover with the line “iGod”. And when Apple announced the iPad, the “Economist” showed Jobs as a Jesus icon. Irony? A little bit. Pseudo-distance.
The entire craze has a lot to do with design. Apple products are minimalistic, simple, they are uncompromising. It has a lot to do with bravery. There are only few companies that think so big, so exorbitant as Apple does, and perhaps no other has this often and completely recreated and updated its own principles. Jobs likes to step into arenas where there are unbeaten opponents at home, and every once in a while he invents a new market, just to monopolize it in the same instant. Now Apple releases the iPad in Germany as well, a computer that is A4 in size, thick like a finger and with the shape of a tablet. For more than a decade have Apple’s competitors been trying to establish such a computer. They all failed. But of course the iPad is chic and cool and fast, it is the known approach: take an existing idea and wrap it so that the masses will buy it. Some say it is a doped iPhone, just bigger so that one can read books, magazines, newspapers and watch movies, surf the internet. Others say it is exactly this that makes this electronic device for the future, the thing that everybody wants to own. It is a touchy device. It snuggles up to the user, it’s a cuddle computer, no button too much. It is a window into the world of media, a window which we can take on our journeys, a window that we can take to bed with us, to the couch, a book to switch on and it cast a spell on the customers: at airport security checks people were stars if they brought out an iPad over the last few weeks.
The thing has weaknesses: because Steve Jobs doesn’t like Flash, many websites are only loaded up halfway, flash videos stay barren areas. And those with big fingers easily mistype words. And in sunlight, one can’t see the screen very clearly. The iPad is a passive computer, with the objective to be consumed. This all has a lot to do with our current age, with the way of how we want to live. An iMac in the office, a MacBook for taking outdoors, an iPod for jogging, an iPad for our education and an iPhone to connect to all the other ever so young people: this is how the human of the 21st century apparently wants to see himself, and in New York, Tokyo, London, Berlin or Hamburg is already living like that. This makes Steve Jobs, 55, to philosopher of the 21st century.
Because Jobs, seducer in a black turtleneck and blue jeans, with the high forehead, beard and glasses is the man who decides how we want to live: he decides what we could have, and tells us that it is what we want to have. He changed the buying behavior of masses and with that ways of living, therefore culture itself. From the success of his company he derives ideologies and the right to censor contents that are played on his computers. Is Apple on the verge of becoming the most influential company in the world? The iPowerfuls?
Those who want to understand Apple, must understand Jobs – Apple is his lifework, the company functions the way he wants it to. It isn’t easy to get close to Jobs, because Apple pretty much never speaks with journalists if they haven’t first praised Apple products. The German spokesperson Georg Albrecht wrote: Apple ” unfortunately does not give insights into its inner workings. As much as I would like to support such a story, I know that we could not provide you with dialog partners.” Little later the response of the Americans yielded the same results: no comment, to anything. But there are people who left Apple, and amongst some who are thankful for Jobs, because they got rich at his side, and others who hate him and seem as if they were traumatized. And there are also people who work for Apple today, who talk about Apple, but under false names, because Jobs is not a kind person. There are only winners and loser in his world, genius or dumb, he hates meat eaters and products are either “crazily great” or “shit”. Employees can be geniuses today and tomorrow “bozos”, idiots, irreplaceable today and fired tomorrow. Apple people call Steve Jobs’ principles of ruling the “hero-shithead-rollercoaster”. The Apple story, which is a Jobs story, can be told in 6 chapters, tells of 6 witnesses of the time periods, of which every single one has his time, from the beginnings of a clique to the future of one of the most powerful companies in the world.
(Part 2 of this article is coming soon.)Share Share