Jobsonian Philosophy? An Assessment of the Secular Philosophy of Steve Jobs and Other Modern Techophiles
An interesting article appeared the in the Wall Street Journal on the Saturday after the passing of Steve Jobs. Written by Andy Crouch, it does a good job (pardon the pun) of distilling the philosophy of technology that is common today. Steve Jobs, a master at technology and business, articulated and exemplified many of its tenants. We do well to examine this philosophy for it is a strong rival to the Christian outlook and has growing numbers of loyalists who see technology as a kind of saving god which has over thrown the older paradigm of the Judeo Christian heritage. It is a kind of substitutional philosophy that deserves so analysis.
I want to present excerpts from the article which is excellent. The full article can be read here: Steve Jobs: Secular Prophet. The text of Mr. Crouch is in bold, black italics, my comments are in red plain text.
Disclaimer: I am a fan of Apple products. I use them and will probably use more in the near future. I respect what Steve Jobs has accomplished and that what he has done has provided benefits for many to include good products, employment and the promotion of excellence. In responding to the philosophical claims of Mr Jobs and others, I am using a form of response that is akin to “rant.” I mean no personal disrespect to Mr Jobs (de mortuis nil nisi bonum). I disagree with his outlook and philosophy but personally respect what he has accomplished. I regret he did not have faith, yet still I hope to see I hope to see him in the great parousia.
Further, If I seem to be disagreeing with Mr Crouch, I am not, for he is but reporting the philosophy of technology and in the ends raises many of the same questions I do. Remember, to some degree I am using “rant” here in order to pull memorably in the other direction. It is a form of speech that requires context and some degree of appreciation for hyperbole (exaggeration).
Steve Jobs was extraordinary in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (demanding and occasionally ruthless) leader. But his most singular quality was his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and turned it into a sign of promise and progress. That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs’s many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance.
To be honest, I never really connected the Apple logo with a shot across the bow of the Judeo-Christian vision of our fallenness. I recently bought an iMac, which I like very much. But frankly the world of Apple and Mac have not been on my radar that much until recently.
But to be clear, I want to personally testify, that neither Macs nor PCs have made even a dent in the problem of sin. Any look at the typical combox of a blog will show that. If anything we’ve become more coarse and divided in our dialogue, as we tend to retreat from real interactions to virtual ones.
Granted, many new connections can be made, and some of them very beneficial, but not all of them are good. Internet porn sites are by far the most visited sites on the Internet, most them completely blowing away the nearest competitors.
Viruses also shout sin. Imagine some one sitting at home writing code to infect my computer and crash the hard disk. Talk about evil.
If there is a rainbow over the bitten apple, it’s a hologram, not real at all. The promise of technology to save or redeem us seems hollow, indeed, empty.
The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—”cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence. And technology is most celebrated when it is most invisible—when the machinery is completely hidden, combining godlike effortlessness with blissful ignorance about the mechanisms that deliver our disburdened lives.
To say that our lives are “disburdened” is a stretch. It is true that there are many creature comforts today and many once tedious tasks have been eliminated.
But honestly, the more we have, the less satisfied we seem to be. Stress and living at 90 mph with endless interruptions, e-mails, text messages, voice mails, tweets, and Facebook pokes, ain’t no paradise. Psychotropic drugs are sold at record levels to help manage the stress and depression that often results.
The wealthier and more well apportioned we have become, the more anxious we become. Frankly, we have too much to loose and so we are fearful. And, all our many possessions breed a kind of addiction to them.
Steve Jobs was great at showing us how that phone he just sold a year ago us is no longer enough. In fact, since his new phone came out, the one he sold us last year is now a piece of junk. You ain’t nothing until you get the latest iPhone 5! And there is something sad and pathetic, seeing people lined up for three days in front of a store to buy a stupid phone (oops, I mean “smart phone”), especially when the one they just bought a year ago, is working fine.
Further, the promises of advertisers et al. to make life peachy, also breeds unrealistic expectations, which in turn breeds resentments and disappointments.
Don’t get me wrong, I like technology and use it, but I am not sure it has “relieved me of the burden of being merely human.” The basic contours of life remain essentially unchanged, and that is, that life has its pleasures and pains, it’s joys and disappointments. Technology hasn’t changed that.
In the end, nothing in this world can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts. This world is not home and we’re always going to feel that we’re living out of a suitcase, because we are.
Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—but technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.
But wait a minute, I thought technology was supposed to relieve us of the burden of being merely human! What this I hear about military political and economic disappointment? Isn’t there an app for that? Looks like we need more than a miracle in a pocket.
He believed so sincerely in the “magical, revolutionary” promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power.
Well, this “magical promise” that replaces the “higher power” has a lot of work to do. We still ain’t back in paradise, no matter what the holographic rainbow over the bitten apple says.
In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly….”No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.”
Sad really. The human person’s dignity reduced to “doing something,” and then, when your usefulness is over and you get in the way of “change,” you need to be cleared away. Sounds like the voice of pure utilitarianism, wherein we are reduced to human doings, rather than human beings. It is clear that, by this philosophy, you do not exist for your own sake. Rather you exist for the purpose of being a “change agent.” And when you start getting in the way of blessed “progress,” holy “change” and other utopian notions, you need to be cut down and cleared away.
[Mr Jobs went on to say] “Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.”
Of course dogma is a “no-no” in techno-religion, since it tends to block blessed and holy “progress” and “change.” For, “dogma” is actually more than “other people’s thinking,” it is the wisdom of past ages, and we can’t have any of that around here. That would get in the way of holy and blessed progress and change. And remember, as soon as you get in the way, you too must be cut down and carried away. Imagine! Learning from the past. No indeed, we certainly can’t be “trapped” by dogma for the reasons stated. Change is all, progress is the pearl of great price. Away with any wisdom from the past (a.k.a “dogma”)!
This is the gospel of a secular age….but the gospel of self-fulfillment does require an extra helping of stability and privilege to be plausible……
Exactly, a philosophy like this can only emerge among the comfortable and well healed, those who are most insulated from life’s often shocking turns. The “do your own thing” dictum is simply not possible for most of the less privileged who are not as free and privileged as Mr Jobs. I wonder if Mr Job’s own employees felt free not to let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. It would seem he did give a lot a freedom to some on his staff, but I doubt the guy in shipping, packing boxes, felt free to ignore Mr Job’s opinion and follow his own inner voice, heart and ambition. I suspect he felt very obliged obey Mr Job’s thinking (i.e. “dogma”).
Is it possible to live a good, full, human life without that kind of hope? Steve Jobs would have said yes in a heartbeat. A convert to Zen Buddhism, he was convinced as anyone could be that this life is all there is. But the rest of us, as grateful as we are for his legacy, still have to decide whether technology’s promise is enough to take us to the promised land. Is technology enough? Has the curse truly been repealed? [Technology] works wonders within its own walled garden, but it falters when confronted with the worst of the world and the worst in ourselves. Exactly
OK, so there’s my rant. How say you?Portrait above, by Tim O’Brien
I don’t know that I agree with the final line of this video, but it does bring home the point that there are a few thorns and thistles in techno-paradise.