Culture

Applegarchy

Steve Jobs worship perpetuates the idea that proprietary technology is developed for us, for our improvement and our needs, rather than for profit or for the egos of venture capitalists and self-proclaimed visionaries.

It's always sad when someone suffers and dies earlier than they might otherwise have because of cancer. So I am sad that Steve Jobs has died. Of course, were he a nobody instead of a billionaire, though, I wouldn't have felt anything about it. I would have ignored his death like all the other strangers' deaths.

I am not much of a believer in the sorts of ideals Steve Jobs came to represent, and seeing the outpouring of gratitude in various media outlets for how he "invented the future" and so forth has made me feel more than usually estranged from the culture I live in. So forgive me if I come across as sour or surly. For his hagiographers, Jobs is an innovative, entrepreneurial genius who gave concrete form to the inchoate desires of the masses to live more beautiful lives. Indeed, he is the man whose marketing savvy brought us the gadgets that set us free to become what we wanted to be, the stylish silhouettes dancing in the old original iPod advertisements, opaque and indistinguishable in their solipsism.

What I see when instructed to appreciate the awesomeness of the world that Jobs helped created is a world full of atomized consumers enthralled by gadgets that promise to augment their lives but just as often compress them, reify them, codify them into quantified data. I see a superficial aesthetic anchored in fastidious fonts and hermetic product design that I am supposed to receive as a special consolation, a privilege of my era as wonderful as electricity or refrigeration. I see commercial products specifically designed to repel curiosity and DIY modification championed as harbingers of the triumph of the "personal." I see gadgets design to accelerate consumption and subsume more of everyday live to the anxieties of mediation represented as great enablers of productive self-expression. Apple under Jobs put a sleek, brushed-aluminum case on the ideology of consumerism and convinced us it had sparked some sort of revolution.

I have no special complaints about the functionality of Apple's products, though they are relatively overpriced. Their vaunted ease of use has only occasionally disappointed me, though I have never understood why I was supposed to be so grateful for it. Praising products for merely working seems to speak of our undue tolerance for broken, shabby things, not a generalized elevation of expectations. And outside of fast fashion, perhaps no company exemplifies the commitment to obsolescence more rigorously than Apple. No other company has been more successful in leveraging the media to make its perfectly functional products seem useless and outdated on a regular schedule. All hail "innovation"!

Still, my problem has always been more with the cult of Apple and of Jobs himself. To me, Jobs represented the tyranny of design, the soft command of seductive interfaces, the covert control through cleverly marketed convenience, the triumph of closed, hierarchical systems over open-source ones, commercial protocols and the ethos of the gated community over the commons. More than any other corporate executive, he commoditized creativity and sold it as a fungible status symbol. Apple is supposed to serve as proof that good design can drive capitalist expansion, that market competition will ultimately produce only things that are held by consensus to be not only utilitarian but beautiful. But one could also see this as a demonstration of capitalist ideology's advance -- it no longer needs appeals to utility and rationality to justify itself, but can presume its subjects will regard exchange itself is beautiful, that its logic can only but yield pleasure. Apple thus betokens a growing dependence on the market in order to experience pleasure. We must buy things to entitle ourselves to an aesthetic feeling.

That I own an iPod probably opens me to accusations of hypocrisy in some people's eyes. Complaining about consumerism but still shopping for things probably makes me a hypocrite to such people (if they are not straw men) too. If you participate at all in the status quo -- if it ensnares you as it is intended to -- you have no right to criticize it. It's incumbent instead to celebrate it. A cursory look at Twitter shows there is certainly no shortage of cheerleaders. When I listen to music, it doesn't mean that much to me if it happens to come from an iPod. But Apple ideology tells me it should, that the device is more significant than what "content" it conveys. My reactionary response has been to fetishize vinyl.

Part of me feels viscerally an envy with regard to Jobs that marks the degree to which I've vicariously participated in the myth that has been built around him, in the entrepreneur worship, the fantasy of power -- of being able to alter other's lives and still be regarded as benevolent. Technology is a perfect vector for that sort of power, masking the agency of those who develop it and program it and representing that as irresistible progress. That instinctive envy engenders a deep skepticism of Silicon Valley, of the sort of people drawn to it, those who seeking technocratic means to dominate the world, impose a vision, dictate the contours of others' lives. Jobs worship perpetuates the idea that proprietary technology is developed for us, for our improvement and our needs, rather than for profit or for the egos of venture capitalists and self-proclaimed visionaries. It makes more sense to me, if you want to worship tech gurus, to choose someone like Linus Torvalds, though I doubt he'll be on the cover of Time when he dies.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.