As everyone knows, Apple, Inc.'s co-founder and technological innovator Steve Jobs died last week; his funeral was this past Friday.
I never, of course, met Steve Jobs and, truth be told, I rarely followed his comings and goings too closely, with a couple of exceptions, as when he was famously rehired by Apple in 1996 (after being fired by the company over a decade earlier). But, like so many others, my life has been affected and influenced by technology and tools (and toys) that he helped develop, create, and promote. I first worked on an Apple computer in 1985 as a sophomore in high school, and since then I've owned at least a dozen Macs; in fact, I've never owned any computer other than a Mac, and anytime I have to use a non-Mac (a rare event), I am reminded again of the ease and elegance of Apple products. And that, of course, includes iPods and iPhones, which are used daily in the Olson home.
This post, for example, is being typed on a MacBook. In other words, my credentials as an Apple geek/devotee/brainwashed loyalist are fairly solid, if not spectacular or unique. But, then, the fact that iMac, iPods, iPads, iThis, and iThat are so widely used and are such a part of the landscape and roomscape of our lives is due, in significant part, to Jobs' vision and drive. It's not surprising at all that the death of this mercurial and complex man, who was in the prime of his life, has captured the attention of tens of millions. And so you can read, to take a couple of examples, these glowing, even rapturous, eulogistic words:
The tragic death of Steve Jobs at 56 is the first event that has ever forced this hyperactive industry to sit still, pipe down, and think about what matters. Nearly everyone in the technology world is moved by his death, as we were all moved by his life. ... Steve Jobs had a genius for seeing what was good and refining, repackaging and reselling it with dazzling panache. He knew what engineering was for, he understood elegance and he made machines that were works of art. We miss him already.
Contrary to myth, he was never an engineering genius like, say, Steve Wozniak. But where his real talent lay — as a technology impresario — was of far greater importance, and infinitely rarer. As in the early days of Apple, Jobs by the turn of the new century was exhibiting almost perfect vision not just for what the marketplace wanted in new consumer products, but what it would want once it saw them. Here in Silicon Valley, we tend to throw around terms like “visionary” with abandon. But more than anyone in the Valley’s history, Steve Jobs deserved the title.
“It would not be overstating things to say that Steve Jobs is my generation’s Thomas Edison,” said Deacon Kandra, a blogger at Patheos.com. “As one observer put it, he knew what the world wanted before the world knew that it wanted it. If you have an iPhone or an iPad or an iPod, or anything remotely resembling them, you can thank Steve Jobs. If your world has been transformed by the ability to hear a symphony, send a letter, pay a bill, deposit a check, read a book and then buy theater tickets on something smaller than a cigarette case … you can thank Steve Jobs. And: You can thank Joanne Schiebel.” There have been 54 million abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973. We will never know have many of these lost children were other Steve Jobs.
The latter quote, coming as it does from a Catholic newspaper that I read and much admire (and have written for over the years), is a bit disconcerting. There is the fascinating and arguable point, for instance, that Jobs really did not begin to touch Edison in terms of long-lasting, world-changing technological achievement. More importantly, even if every single one of those 54 million murdered children was born with Down's Syndrome, or without legs, or without eyesight, it wouldn't change the fact that each of them was created in the likeness and image of a loving and merciful Creator. Yes, I understand the point being made, but there is a fine line between giving credit where credit is due, and simply overdoing it.
Anyhow, the "but..." in this post's headline comes courtesy of Blessed John Paul II and his second encyclical, Dives in misericordia (November 1980), on God, "who is rich in mercy".
It is a good summary, I think, of what Steve Jobs and Apple have done. There is, however, an important "but"—a word of caution:
But side by side with all this, or rather as part of it, there are also the difficulties that appear whenever there is growth. There is unease and a sense of powerlessness regarding the profound response that man knows that he must give. The picture of the world today also contains shadows and imbalances that are not always merely superficial.
John Paul II then quoted from the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (which he helped write), from the Second Vatican Council, and concluded:
Towards the end of the introductory exposition we read: ". . .in the face of modern developments there is a growing body of men who are asking the most fundamental of all questions or are glimpsing them with a keener insight: What is man? What is the meaning of suffering, evil, death, which have not been eliminated by all this progress? What is the purpose of these achievements, purchased at so high a price?"
What is man? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of death? The Big Questions! In other words, technology and related tools are morally neutral, so the deeper questions include, "For what end should this technology be used? How so? And what does our use of technology say about our understanding of man and his proper ends?"
It just so happens that Steve Jobs, despite being famously private, did address these questions in a very public way in 2005, when he gave the commencement address at Stanford University. In that address, he spoke with humor and directness about being an adopted child, attending college for a short while, and making tough choices about what to do with his life. He also spoke about the shock and pain of being fired, at the age of thirty, by the very company he co-founded, saying:
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
And then he spoke of battling pancreatic cancer and coming to grips with his mortality:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ...
Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
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 is 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. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is 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. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
This is both revealing and, dare I say, a bit stunning. Why? Because Jobs, staring death in the face, sought comfort in a flood of clichés and Hallmark card-like platitudes that are as surprisingly vapid as they are relentlessly secular (I know, that's redundant):
• "Don't lose faith" (in what? in whom?)
• "Find what you love" (like your high school career counseler always said!)
• "Love what you do! Don't settle!" (does that also apply to empty clichés?)
• "Follow your heart..." (perfect for Hallmark)
• "Live your own life" (as if I have a choice!)
• "Listen to your inner voice" (because you told me to?)
• "Follow your heart and intuition" (even if it tells me to do bad things?)
And that doesn't even get us to Jobs' concluding bit of advice (taken from The Whole Earth Catalog): "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." Presumably, it seems, until one dies, at which point hunger and foolishness cease? Many people find this amazing and inspiring; I think it is ultimately empty and quite depressing.
Andy Crouch, in a January 2011 article, "The Gospel of Steve Jobs", wrote that Jobs' "most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope." Referring to Jobs' commencement address, Crouch wrote, "This is the gospel of a secular age. It has the great virtue of being based only on what we can all perceive—it requires neither revelation nor dogma. And it promises nothing it cannot deliver—since all that is promised is the opportunity to live your own unique life, a hope that is manifestly realizable since it is offered by one who has so spectacularly succeeded by following his own 'inner voice, heart and intuition.'"
Jobs was apparently raised in a Lutheran home, but embraced Buddhism in adulthood. Is that the reason he said, "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking"? Regardless of the exact reason, it is a strikingly small and wrongheaded remark for a number of reasons. Historically, the technology that Jobs helped develop and further was made possible because of philosophical and theological beliefs that are distinctly Christian (see my essay, "Dark Ages and Secularist Rages"); personal computers and iPods exist today because of dogmatic beliefs about God, creation, the orderly nature of reality, and so forth. (Put another way, there's a reason that modern technology did not originate in India or come from Buddhists.) Logically, it is more than a little contradictory to scorn "living with the results of other people's thinking" when Jobs spent his entire working life seeking to have as many people as possible living with the results of his thinking. Besides, it's not as if Apple was created ex nihilo, without any reliance on the thinking and work of previous inventors, engineers, and innovators.
I suspect that Jobs was, to a large extent, simply parroting the prevailing wisdom of the day, which mistakes dogmas for imprisonment, when exactly the opposite is the case. "The vice of the modern notion of mental progress", wrote Chesterton in Heretics, "is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas." And:
The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus.
Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.
I suppose some readers might say, "Hey, give me a break! Steve Jobs was not a philosopher or theologian; you are reading too much into his remarks." But I think that would be an insult to the sincerity and seriousness of Jobs; I do think he intended to impart a clear and understandable view of life and death, and, frankly, it is one that falls well short of the truth about who man really is and what he is meant to be: a child of God sharing in the divine life and perfect love of the Triune God.
Don't get me wrong: I fully recognize that Jobs was an innovating genius when it comes to technology and material things. But his perspective of the bigger picture was seriously lacking. I would go even further and say that his view, taken to its logical end, is quite contrary to the truth as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
A few weeks ago, my pastor gave a wonderful homily (as usual), in which he spoke about the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips because of computers and the internet. He said:
We have all this information; now what do we do with it? How do we handle it, what does it mean for us, where does it take us, and what information is truly important for us to pay attention to?
So I wish to point out to you the advice that was given by the wisest person who ever lived on the face of the earth, when she was talking to just a couple of ordinary, everyday guys at a wedding about 2,000 years ago: "Do whatever He tells you." And we know what He says. We find it in Scripture, in the faith that comes to us in the Church. We find it in the Liturgy and even in our personal prayer.
We have an over-abundance of information today but there is not an over-abundance of wisdom to tell us how to use the information we have. Blessed are we to be disciples of a Master Who can show us and help us to live in genuine wisdom, act as people of virtue, and love with our whole heart, mind, and soul, both Him as well as our neighbor. Through the prayers of His most blessed Mother, whose birthday we continue to celebrate, may He save us both now and forever. Amen