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Steve Jobs is America (and so can you)

06 Oct

In a classic case of “where were you when,” I was just finishing up as a guest discussant at York University in Toronto Wednesday night when I found out Steve Jobs had passed away. It was sad news, especially given that Jobs, Apple and the iPhone had ironically come up many times during the class, which is all about broadband, the internet and technology.

My book Sex, Bombs and Burgers is actually part of the course reading, presumably selected to give students a break from the dry TCP/IP protocols and CRTC regulatory issues they normally have to digest. The chapters assigned for reading and then discussion in class were those dealing with the internet’s formation, as well as the pornography industry’s influence in helping to develop it.

One student put forward a question that I found to be particularly poignant later, after learning of Jobs’ death: If pornography is such a big driver of innovation, aren’t countries that ban it stunting their ability to innovate?

It was a thought-provoking query, not because of Apple’s own half-hearted attempt to ban porn from its products, but because of the deeper societal and economic issues it touched on.

I meandered through the answer until concluding that yes, countries that ban porn are doing themselves significant harm. It’s not just porn, though – outlawing smut is almost always just the top of the slippery slope, which inevitably leads to other rights being curtailed. Countries that place such limits on citizens’ freedoms – whether it’s looking at dirty pictures, being able to speak freely or protesting online or in the streets – are usually not very progressive or innovative.

China, where porn and many other freedoms are technically banned, is a great example. The country desperately wants to transform itself from the world’s manufacturing centre into an innovation hub and is throwing billions of dollars at emerging technology research, such as nanotech, to do so. But what the country isn’t doing – and what it is effectively preventing with its various limitations – is encouraging regular people to invent and create. China is trying to innovate on an institutional level, but it isn’t creating a culture of innovation.

The United States has fostered and nurtured just such a culture better than anyone for at least the past century. It has given the world the likes of Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and, yes, Steve Jobs, not to mention a whole slew of others. These are individuals who were consumed with the ability to create something new, but more importantly – whether it was in a garage or a basement – they had the freedom to follow their visions.

True innovation, therefore, doesn’t come from up on high. It comes from below, sometimes literally in the case of those businesses that started in basements.

Everything Apple is today is a testament to that culture and way of life. Jobs, along with his friend Steve Wozniak, started business literally in his family’s garage and now, almost 40 years later, it’s the most valuable technology company in the world. If that’s not the perfect example of the quintessential American dream, nothing is.

Steve Jobs really is more than just an entrepreneur and an inventor, he’s a symbol of that culture of innovation, and one that you don’t have to be an American to admire. His accomplishments have doubtlessly inspired many people around the world and hopefully will continue to do so.

The title of this post comes from Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (and So Can You). It’s a weirdly worded title for a book, but with a slight alteration, I think it perfectly describes the life and legacy of Steve Jobs.

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4 Comments

Posted by on October 6, 2011 in apple

 

4 responses to “Steve Jobs is America (and so can you)

  1. Chris C.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Not to put a shadow on Steve Jobs’ passing, but I cringed when I read:

    “True innovation, therefore, doesn’t come from up on high. It comes from below, sometimes literally in the case of those businesses that started in basements.

    Everything Apple is today is a testament to that culture and way of life.”

    I find it disturbing that the the iron fisted stranglehold Apple has on its customers is so blatantly ignored.

    If anything, that ‘innovative company’ epitomizes everything that is stifling about corporatism. Indeed you are free to do to whatever you want with your Mac… As long as you stay within the strict bounds Apple has set up for you! (Doing what you want with your Apple product is not called ‘Jailbreaking’ for no reason.)

    So I am asking, what real difference is there between that and what the Chinese Government is doing, if not a simple matter of relative measure because of different circumstances?

    Like I said, I do agree that he was a great innovator and a visionary. Great example for the person he was, but quite the opposite for his users. Autotune anyone?

     
    • Alexander Trauzzi (@Omega_)

      October 9, 2011 at 9:11 am

      Well said. I think with time, people are going to realize that Jobs didn’t help technology with his views. Quite the opposite. He entrenched closed systems, proprietary software and overpriced hardware.

      I can’t in any way respect hose accomplishments and anyone would be hard presse to do the same.

       
  2. Marc Venot

    October 6, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Most of those entrepreneurs come from California but the state itself is close to bankrupcy with a bad electric and transit grid, not to talk of jails with a large part of the population and many stuffs obsolete.
    On the other side the USA don’t place artificial barriers to access as for example photos.

    One of the many habilities of Steve Jobs was to explain clearly to the other side in a negociation where is the medium term profit even if the short term was adventurous.

     
  3. Russell McOrmond

    October 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Where was I when…..

    Earlier in the afternoon I was listening to http://www.faif.us/cast/2011/sep/13/0x18/ which discussed Steve Jobs as being the first violator of the GNU General Public License. Pirates of Silicon Valley indeed….

    I found out about the death as part of the preparatory work towards participating on http://dyscultured.com/2011/10/06/episode-154-thys-week-wyth-an-i/

    I skipped out of the beginning of the show where they spoke about Jobs and Apple product launches, then came on when discussing Copyright Bill C-11. I stepped out as I didn’t think it appropriate for me to give my opinion of a person whose politics I disagreed with so soon after they had died.

    Steve Jobs may have been a creation of a system that allowed for open innovation, but as a participant in the political process he worked against that openness. This is a stereotypical example of wanting to lock the door to others after he has entered freely himself.

    If any individual within any organization could be seen as the spokesperson of the move to add/retain legal protection for TPMs inappropriately Copyright, it is Mr. Jobs. If you look at the ongoing process with the DMCA to set up exceptions for unlocking ones own information technology property, the most visible opponent remains Apple.

    I will agree that Mr. Jobs had a profound effect on computing, and the increasing parts of our lives which are affected by computing. I have spent much of my time as digital human rights activist working trying to minimize that harmful effect.

    Like any other political leader whose actions have been questioned, he should be seen as one person who represented some ideas. It isn’t like someone else wouldn’t have become the spokesperson for those ideas if Jobs hadn’t been around, and it isn’t as if these ideas are going to go away with his passing. It is not like our fight to protect the rights of technology owners hit some major crossroads yesterday.

     
 
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