The Cult And the Man

53 Comments

The way I see it, Steve Jobs will be remembered for having created the world’s biggest corporate cult, a cult so blinding in its hold that its devotees no longer cared if others were making more technologically advanced products at a lower price. As far as they were concerned, if it was not an Apple, it would never be perfect.

This is not to say that Apple devotees were mindless zombies. Okay maybe they are but you could not blame them, just like you could not blame a moth for flying into the flame. Jobs was that awesome.

Like those who claimed to speak to Gods, Jobs delivered Zennish koans and inspirational commandments . Like cult leaders, Jobs abhorred technological and organizational glasnost, used a fearsome legal team to pursue anyone who was perceived as a threat, even a nineteen year old blogger and was intolerant of criticism to the point of being petulant—he removed all books of John Wiley and Sons from Apple’s retail store because they had published a book about him that he did not approve of.

But unlike other prophets who merely promised great joys in the great beyond , Steve Jobs actually delivered in this life. Year after year, Apple came out with stunning technological products that shook up the industry with unfailing predictability.

How did the man do it? It’s impossible deconstructing the methods of a genius (if it was possible, I would be one) but one thing is obvious—for Jobs, technology was never really a list of technical specifications or about making a set of “See I do better than yours” benchmarks. It was about getting into the very head of the customer, to understand what exactly makes us “love” something.

Humans are drawn viscerally to good-looking people, who are also simple to understand and interact with us in a pleasant manner. Jobs was successful in engineering each of these things into Apple products—-they were always invariably drop-dead gorgeous, had very simple, intuitive  “Why didn’t I think of that before” interfaces and provided an user experience like nothing else in the market. And once he had done so, competitors would bang their heads against the door as much as they wanted and scream in impotent rage “But our products have better tech specifications and cost less”—but to no avail.

Better luck convincing the Pope to become an atheist.

Creating this kind of a global religious reverence to something that is sold in the marketplace is unprecedented in the history of the world.  It’s all the more remarkable when you realized that the basic idea of all this from the mind of one man, who blazed through the twilight zone of technology, art, design and marketing, in a way none has before.

And perhaps, no one ever will.

 

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53 thoughts on “The Cult And the Man

  1. Thanks Arnab.

    I myself had eaten the apple since last year and I do not see myself giving it up in the near future.

    Somewhere I read ” Three apples changed the world . The one Eve ate; the one that fell on Newton’s head and the one that Steve made. Well done Steve and rest in peace”.

    On a lighter note

    10 years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash – Now we have no Jobs, no Hope and no Cash.

  2. Ah GB, I was hoping you wouldn’t go down the mactard route. But to be fair, there’s also a good explanation of why people like it, although it does go beyond the great looks.

  3. “But our products have better tech specifications and cost less”
    The exact feeling I get while going to clubs outside India. Haha.
    This article really opened my eyes. All I had to think was why did I choose iPhone over the others.
    Anyways. Good one. Precise.

  4. @greatbong: No you didn’t say this about Steve, but you had posted a similar tweet about Sachin, Sai Baba and Jesus on 24th April.

  5. yeah a pretty balanced post about what a normal person would think about the man .. but at the end of the day the products he was most famous for was a music player and blown up phone .. kind of right symbol for our materialistic times

  6. About his leadership
    eventhough he was a ruthless leader sometimes u have to think revolutions in nations/industries isn’t always brought by conventional humble nice speaking leaders..like MMS
    Partly he dominated the apple was probably because he was thrown out of it in early 90’s SO on his comeback he made sure that everything stays under his power. And he pretty much proved that his thinking was right in last 10 years.

  7. When Gates moves on, he will in all likelihood be widely panned as a greedy bloodsucking unethical corporate monster, and 99% of the people trashing him will be apple-sheep.

    Which is such a tragedy. Gates was one of the architects of the Giving Pledge, gave away billions of his fortune through the Gates Foundation, the largest private transparent charitable foundation in the world, whose track record in fighting issues that really matter to the world’s population is well documented. Jobs took his immense fortune to his grave, never signed the Giving Pledge, and the only people he really touched are materialistic slaves who cannot live without a ‘music player and a blown-up phone’, consisting of, what, 0.005% of the world’s population??
    Not to mention the other small fact of almost 80% of the world’s computers
    running Windows (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems).

    The comparative impact on humankind in general, between these two persons, is clear as day. But sadly, only to those who can think for themselves.

  8. That is true Shubs. Very true. Gates took more LSD than Jobs..that made him a better man and a more philanthropic person. Pliss also think of the plethora of left-libs in US of A who think that Apple, Target and S’Bux are ethical while Walmart is unethical. Lol.

  9. Well Shubs and yourfan2, not to say you are technically wrong but if you really prefer to go by the impact they have made on peoples’ lives, you can find better people than Bill Gates; it isn’t clear how far has Bill Gates helped. I mean, did he lift *any* society out of poverty? Neither did Jobs, but there was a person who did : Norman Borlaug, the father of green revolution. The biggest poverty reduction in India has been due to the green revolution. And Borlaug credited with saving over a billion lives.

    He passed away in 2009 and is not going to get nearly the adulation Jobs has gotten or Gates will get. My somewhat cynical view is that left-libs and self-declared gadget nuts, geeks etc. never bothered to actually ever do a cost-benefit analysis; they merely wish to make a religion of science, as a result of which the biggest achievements of science are overlooked, and much ado is made about rather insignificant points like evolution (purely for the reason that it makes things into a romantic “science vs superstition fight”).

  10. I don’t remember being moderated at this site before; have I suddenly fallen into your blacklist? I have bitterly disagreed with you but don’t remember abusing anyone.

  11. Nicely written. It is indeed unique to have seen and experienced at least the second Apple revolution. The genius of the man and his aability to create teams to make the impossible to build and impossible to market products was remarkAble.

  12. Froginthewell: I agree with you, but Bill Gates was brought into the conversation because of context. Else we could be talking about Gandhi, Einstein or Borlaug…:-)

  13. Two souls departed within a span of 6 days – both died of same ailment (as we know from what we read in the internet). One worked relentlessly for almost 40 years in order to help mankind with a better understanding of our immune system, the other – if I may risk my troubled head on a weak shoulder, tried to understand what gizmo’s appeal to a tiny section of mankind (not in terms of the size that makes or breaks market cap of a “high tech” company – just mere numbers I am alluding to). One fought his ailment with his own discoveries. The other possibly – inadvertently contributed to the potential of those gizmos’ “impact” on our immune system (I would not attempt further furore here – but no last word has yet been said on the role of mobile telephony on human health – neither an accusation nor an acquittal – so for a crooked mind strolling in a demented minds’ backyard, there remains a genuine possibility of the “God”s hand in our eventual “death” …). Sad part of humanity is that social network, print/electronic media are crestfallen on “God’s departure” (in fact, I am so impacted by “R.I.P”s on FB walls that I could not muster enough courage to log onto my own wall for last few days) – while for many, Ralph Steinman is a passing news item (I would not be surprised if some frantic google-ing on this Steinman on a sleak smartphone is launched right at this moment). Yes, Ralph Steinman is one of the three Nobel prize winners for medicine this year, announced on 3-Oct – who passed away just couple of days before. And for those enlightened souls for whom a nice-to-have stuff becomes a must-have in their daily lives, Mr.Jobs’ contribution is comparable to a some-one Thomas Alva Edison! Now, that is really, really sad day for mankind.
    Both these departed souls are worthy of respect and humility. Hype could have just waited for a few more moments to step in and take its place …

  14. A few observations –

    (1) In general, public figures (especially entertainers) will get more attention than people who explain how the world works. Few remember who got the chemistry nobel prize the year Michael Jackson died.

    (2) Jobs tumultuous life story is much more compelling than Gates who was born to privilege and then pretty much coasted once MS was founded. People find stories of wining underdogs fascinating and worth celebrating even if the person was an a**hole.

    (3) Founding and leading one of the most profitable technical companies till death without holding any technical degrees is to put it mildly, quite an achievement in its own right.

    (4) If you think people buying shiny, beautiful and easy to use products are fools then you don’t get capitalism.

    (5) The combined effect of above mentioned points is far more than any of them individually.

    Best

  15. @Shubs: Why is that a rich man can be good only if he is doing charity? Jobs earned the on this own and he has all the right to do what he wants with it.

  16. In the early stages of computer, tech specifications meant everything. But in these days, it doesn’t matter too much how fast your computer is or how much meomory it has.

    I bought an iMac 2007, i still love it, and feel no urge to buy a new model anytime soon. The first iPhone was a bit dodgy, but the 3GS works perfectly fine, I saw no reason to upgrade to iPhone 4, iPhone5 however i might do it, depending on it’s LOOKS. (I would like a better camera)

    I care nothing about techspecifications any more. I send texts, read blogs, twitter and facebook. I download podcasts. The best things with my iPhone are the apps, I like Evernote and Momento. Unless you are a gamer, tech specifications means nothing.

  17. Look, if Bill Gates would have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and it would have dawned upon the world that Bill Gates time on earth was soon to be. I am quite sure he would have recieved the appropriate attention and appreciation.

    I hate when people compare Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in order to put one above the other. Microsoft had it’s time in the limelight, when Bill Gates stepped down it was a much publisized event. But he was not terminally ill, Bill Gates still makes the headlines.

    What did we know about Steve Jobs future plans? Maybe if Steve Jobs, just like Gates, would have recognized that he didn’ have the same energy and motivation for Apple he would have stepped down and engaged himself in Bill&Melissa’s fund, or created one of his own.

  18. and I (and the others) love iphone (and the creater) coz he was the harbinger of technology, unlike other companies who after copying his ideas created a product with better specifications and offered it at a cheaper price…I prefer the original product, not the copycats…

  19. Microsoft and Apple are into mostly very different things, and overlap only where personal computing is concerned. While for MS, PC’ting is the most visible part of their business (and houses the most and biggest profitable units), Apple is only about PC’ting. Apple continues to be the more mature OS developer, but MS maybe close to erasing that lead forever with 7 and soon the 8. MS and Gates are great technological companies and have made an awesome contribution to modern computing according to none else than Jobs. MS’s troubles are due to its increasing reliance on the suits over the jeans, again according to none other than Jobs. Apple also is a product and technology led led company and Jobs dismissed even allusion of it being a marketing led company.
    Jobs also was always an obsessed and difficult person who ran a company that continues to be tyranny unlike MS which until recently has been one of the nicest places to work for. What made Apple succeed is a question that attracts mistaken answers and non sequitur by the ream. But a simpler answer maybe that the web made compatibility a trivial factor. Apple always made likeable, simple and easy to use product and charged a non-trivial premium for it. I have always wanted to own an Apple product – anyone – but some time after the advent of the iPhone, a few years after I had turned to Ubuntu, I decided that the Apple premium isn’t simply worth it. And then I used an iPod recently – for the first time -and was simply horrified at the meaningless and abstruse interface of iTunes and idiot manner of syncing. Steve is certainly a great guy for having returned to the corporation that he founded and that fired him and took it from near bankruptcy, all the way to the status of the most valuable company in America. But his personal failings are too many to ignore – evading paternity responsibility, disengaging from philanthropy, running a tyranny, and other such things – and leave us with the sketch of a mean, petty, vengeful and insecure bully, rather than a lofty and profound visionary. And we are yet to get started with his disinterested and perhaps amoral embrace of the Chinese sweatshop supply chain. Which is why it is ironical that Apple’s tablet leadership maybe threatened by Amazon, a company that is rumoured to spending a pile on lobbying to prevent any legislation that will tax internet sales in California. Never mind the many small brick and mortar retailers who priced out by Amazon, are facing ruin.

  20. Good post Arnab – however felt it was incomplete to an extent. It describes the Jobs-Apple relation, but not much about the legacy of the man himself . I think the story of his life is going to be as memorable as the great wonders he made at Apple. If you haven’t seen the famous speech as yet -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

  21. froginthewell and Party- Both sexcellent comments above. My point is, some foolis lef-liberals who eat vegan food and buy Organic have this tendency to portray Jobs as a philanthropic, but Gates as a greedy son-of-a-biach. The point is not to say who is better than whom. Both are businessmen. But Jobs was a power freak too. Because he was kicked out of Apple, it actually made him a better salesman. As James Surwosexy says in NY piss, http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2011/10/17/111017ta_talk_surowiecki
    “When Jobs returned, he still wanted Apple to, as he put it, “own and control the primary technology in everything we do.” But his obsession with control had been tempered: he was better, you might say, at playing with others, and this was crucial to the extraordinary success that Apple has enjoyed over the past decade. Take the iPod. The old Jobs might well have insisted that the iPod play only songs encoded in Apple’s favored digital format, the A.A.C. This would have allowed Apple to control the user experience, but it would also have limited the iPod market, since millions of people already had MP3s. So Apple made the iPod MP3-compatible. (Sony, by contrast, made its first digital music players compatible only with files in Sony’s proprietary format, and they bombed as a result.) Similarly, Jobs could have insisted, as he originally intended, that iPods and iTunes work only with Macs. But that would have cut the company off from the vast majority of computer users. So in 2002 Apple launched a Windows-compatible iPod, and sales skyrocketed soon afterward. And, while Apple’s designs are as distinctive as ever, the devices now rely less on proprietary hardware and more on standardized technologies.”

    But boy…Bill Gates is a greattttt man too. I bet none of you sonsofbitches would have given a single dollar if you had like 65 million. He did and thats why hats off.

  22. Bill Gates is a much bigger philanthropist than Mother Teresa was. Mother tersea tried to covertly proselytize poor people into a dangerous religion. Bill Gates should get a sainthood!!!

    Sorry for the typo in my prev comment. I am ass-drunk now. I meant 65 f-ing billion, not million. 3 Blistering barnacles!

  23. @Rajesh: “Jobs earned the on this own and he has all the right to do what he wants with it.”

    Sure, I don’t think anyone can argue against that point. However, in that case, giving Jobs the status of a messiah who came down from the heavens to save humankind should be taken with a large fistful of salt. That kind of hero-worship is out there, being thrown in your face all over the internet and traditional media. Every public figure has his/her sphere of influence, and those that history judges as the ‘great’ ones leave behind an impact way beyond that sphere. Time will tell whether Jobs left behind that kind of legacy, but to lose perspective and place him among the pantheon of people who have left the world a better place, is silly, trivial and an insult to those who actually deserve that reverence.

    @Party Pooper: Agree with all that you said, other than the underdog angle. From the beginning, Jobs revelled in his image of ‘Apple vs the World’, or more specifically, ‘ME vs the world’. First, it was IBM, then it was Xerox, then Microsoft. Nobody was really out to get him, or Apple. Apple was phenomenally successful in its own right, and he was a millionaire many times over even before he was pushed out of the company.
    Also, if capitalism was just defined by people buying shiny, overpriced products, we would live in a sad world indeed. Thankfully, most of us do not blow our life’s savings on diamond studded mobile phones or $39000 handbags (http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-07-15/entertainment/29796619_1_bags-backpack-crocodile)…:-)

    @I love iphone: “I prefer the original product, not the copycats”
    Hope you’re still using that circa 1981 Xerox mouse with your iMac.

  24. Mr. Bong captured the man and life of Steve Jobs in a poignant manner. I would like to thank him and compliment him for that.

    When I read through the comments though I lost my way. It is anywhere from Steve is a great guy to Steve is no-good. It is common in the internet boards to hear all the angles on a subject. One should keep the context in mind.

    About Bill Gates philanthropy. No body mentioned it is almost a must in America when you have that kind of money to establish a nonprofit charity, put most of your assets in it and keep the wealth in the family. And use it for influence peddling for generations.

  25. @Shubs
    (1) A person who is born out of wedlock, abandoned by his parents, drops out of college due to financial reasons, is kicked out of his own company by a person he himself hired, heads back to his company when it was on the verge of being wiped out, launches products in segments which are all ‘saturated’ according to ‘experts’ and fights a malignant cancer during his most productive years is an underdog in people’s perception. Net worth or character flaws not withstanding.

    (2) As far as buying shiny stuff which perceived to be useless by you being a sad day for capitalism – please don’t project your own value system on to every one else. Yes, some people are indeed stupid but that’s not the point.

    (3) Since you are sensitive to the fate of Gates let me add that he has done remarkable good work for mankind and rest assured he will get his due. Also research done by Apple is not even comparable to anything MS does. So even there he will get his due.

    Peace.

  26. Steve Jobs was a great man. A man with acute business acumen, certainly. A great visionary, of course. But a great inventor? A good one, but I have great reservations on the ‘great inventor’ moniker.

    A great inventor possesses ideas and brings them to reality that are hard to conceive, emulate and which have long lasting (if not ever-lasting) effects on the general populace. When compared to epoch changing inventions like the steam engine (James Watt), light bulb and a host of other inventions (Edison), flight (Wright brothers) even cars (Henry Ford), what Jobs churned out (from poorly maintained Chinese factories, which is another story) were merely ‘toys’ for the rich, though granted Apple products have formed a cult following which seemingly now transcends the wealthy. $600 for a phone (without a contract that is) IS a very expensive piece of 4.35″ by 2.31″ metal/plastic.

    Let’s take a look at the ‘conceive’ part. Most Apple products are not the first ones of their type. The personal computer existed since at least 1968, and the first Apple computer, Apple I, came out in 1976. Neither the mp3 player nor the tablet (the concept, that is) were babies of Apple, though, again, they gained popularity when iPod and iPad were introduced in the market. The iPhone is probably the only path breaker.

    Emulate – For any Apple products out in the market, there are 10 available alternative, and some with better specifications and usability.

    Long lasting effect – If truly the iPhone were such a game changing product why the necessity to have 4 or 5 version in the same number of years?

    General population – How many people outside the first world countries can afford any Apple products?

    [Arnab – I’m going to post 3 links in my next comment, hope it’s not a problem]

  27. It’s sad that people are bickering over whether Steve was 60%great or 80% great. He lived life on his own terms and influenced lot of people’s lives (maybe very tiny percent of world population) and way of thinking. And sure not many can be proud of doing that. There is no point comparing two dead men or a dead man to a living person. If Steve was alive he definitely would have had great respect for the people he’s been compared to in the comments.

  28. A few months backs at a mall in mumbai i saw a salesman explaining features of an mp3 player to a young girl for a good 15 minutes or so, ending with the unbeatable price offer for the hardware piece. The girl said “but thats not an ipod”.
    Jobs didn’t just create a brand, he created a seductress which i believe will keep on charming us.

  29. I write this after having just read news reports of Dennis Ritchie’s death. I would be pleasantly surprised if any of the news organizations would take time to highlight the achievements of the person whose contributions to computing would make Jobs,Gates and their entire organizations combined pale in comparison.C,Unix,Unicode and programming paradigms that would take entire tomes to even list down.

    There was much brouhaha about how Job’s greatness could be gauged by the fact that the device “he designed” was being used to “broadcast his death”.(I don’t exactly know what that means;but since the BBC felt that way, they should have redefined the term broadcast with some new meaning.)If the same standards were applied, then one would be right to claim that the computers powered by Ritchie’s OS was being used to not only to relay the news of his death-but the encoding scheme that literally tumbled on to a piece of napkin over lunch was being used to display it in almost all the language of extant on earth to convey news of Ritchie’s death.

  30. Printer’s devil in the comment above.The last sentence should be read as

    If the same standards were applied, then one would be right to claim that the computers powered by Ritchie’s OS was being used to not only to relay the news of his death-but the encoding scheme that literally tumbled on to a piece of napkin over lunch was being used to display it in almost all the languages extant on earth to convey news of Ritchie’s death.

  31. Ritchie’s gone. So now there are Thompson and Kernighan still around. But what’s an Apple hugging, Facebook yamming ignorant care?

  32. death of Steve Jobs is very sad.. but not because a great visionary or soul died but definitely an intelligent human being who created wealth for many and made millions happy.. it is wrong to speak ill of dead.. but Jobs and his products became bigger than life and he is considered no ordinary soul so here goes..

    it is symptomatic of massive dumbing-down of human race that we are seeing such mad adulation of a man / company / product.. Jobs failed straight for 25 years (by the same measures he is deemed successful now) before “blazing a trail” in the last 7 years.. there is a lot to learn from his personal struggles but little to call him “god, savior, someone who put a ding on the universe”.. he was a magician, a maker of costly beautiful toys that make rich people happy.. not unlike the fashion designer or say owner of “victoria secret”.. nothing more.. his or Apple’s contribution to mankind ends at delighting rich people who control newspapers and media.. IBM, HP, AT&T yes, those old farts have done ‘000s time more for improving human race.. even Microsoft with their pervasive software has contributed immeasurably more to productivity of human race (and with their philanthropy) than Apple can ever imagine.. even Facebook will stack higher than Apple on improving our lives (Arab Spring)..

    Sad day indeed for the death.. but more so for it becoming evident that Homo Sapiens are hurtling towards becoming a narcissitic, dumb race

  33. Pingback: First among equals? Not quite so « The answer to all questions

  34. Pingback: First among equals? « The answer to all questions

  35. Shiv Visvanathan claims that we (i.e. our Indian innovators) are not into alternative and dissenting subcultures, and this limits our originality

    QUOTE:
    “… because Indian myths of [Steve] Jobs tend to misunderstand his genius. We see the power of invention in Silicon Valley, but we do not see the eccentricity, the criminality, the creativity of the other side of the fence that originally created Silicon Valley.

    We see our IITs feeding into it but do not realise our IITs are too well behaved, too managerial to contribute to that kind of originality.”

    SOURCE: http://www.deccanchronicle.com/columnists/shiv-visvanathan/dark-side-genius

  36. I only feel sad that we have had so many people sing peans of Steve Jobs(which I must say he deserves) but I have not heard a single person writing about the person who actually changed the world, Dennis M Ritchie. That guy wrote the systems which basically make world go round today. Just because he was not glamorous enough… May god bless him and may his soul always rest in peace. It was a bad week for the computing world.

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