The passing of Steve Jobs

In some ways, the gadgets the Apple founder created have become a social nuisance.

Steve Jobs_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Steve Jobs_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Last Friday most daily newspapers devoted their front pages, and many more inner pages, to the death of Apple founder and head Steve Jobs, who over the past few years slowly withered away before our eyes.
“The man who changed our lives,” “The man who brought color, touch and passion to the digital age,” and “A man of vision and a creative genius,” are just a few of the headlines that greeted us.
No one can take Steve Jobs’ achievements away from him: Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad, to name the most obvious. The uniqueness of Jobs’ inventions, and his emphasis on user-friendliness and aesthetics, will certainly be remembered and cherished by many. But let’s keep things in proportion.
Jobs’ focus was on relatively expensive digital gadgets that, while undoubtedly a lot of fun and frequently even useful, aren’t really indispensable. Yes, many people have become addicted to them, but in certain respects they have become a social nuisance.
Last week’s mass disappointment following Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 4S, rather than the expected iPhone 5, is symptomatic of a loss of all sense of proportion.
The iPhone is little more than an over-priced toy that, like other such toys, very rapidly becomes “outdated” for no real reason other than that its producer said so. Then it can sell you a newer version, even though the original was more than you had ever dreamt of. The problem is that the producer very soon stops servicing the old version, thus forcing you to purchase the new one. It’s economics, stupid.
While I’m no Luddite, and am not averse to using computers or mobile phones (although the latter only when absolutely necessary), there are many aspects of the digital age, to which Jobs was a major contributor, that I find highly disturbing.
Most children today know how to find information about nearly everything, but ask the average computer-savvy child to name the three Biblical Patriarchs, or who Ben-Gurion was (besides a street in most Israeli towns), or what the Six Day War was about, and you’ll most likely get a blank look.
Nowhere is this dependence on technology more prominent than in the case of the Global Positioning System, or GPS. There’s no doubt that in many situations GPS can be extremely useful. But people have come to depend on it in situations where a quick glance at a map, or even just plain common sense, would be sufficient.
Then there are the anti-social aspects of technology addiction.
For example, an increasing number of people don’t stop playing with their gadgets even in the theater while watching a play, or continue to fiddle with their iPhone while participating in a conversation, without bothering to even look at those they are interacting with (Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar is notorious for this). Back in the early 1990s I pointed out in an article in The Jerusalem Post that being forced to listen to people’s phone conversations in public (the first mobile phones had just made their appearance) would turn into a real nuisance – as it has.
The fact that kids are spending more and more time playing around with digital gadgets (not to mention watching television) rather than playing outdoors with other children and developing social skills, is also disturbing, especially since all these gadgets are invariably sources of radiation.
On the subject of social skills, while Facebook, as a central feature of the digital revolution, has played an important role in the recent wave of political and social upheaval around the world, it also encourages people to develop virtual relationships at the expense of real, physical contact.
So while the late Steve Jobs deserves full credit for his innovative thinking and the resulting products, and for his impressive and inspiring struggle against cancer, he should not be turned into a demigod. It is time to take a critical look at some of the negative aspects of the digital revolution he helped to generate, and to start addressing them.
The writer is a member of the Labor Party and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.