Why We Care About Steve Jobs

The reason why we care about Steve Jobs is because he was deeply in tune with the ideas and norms of our culture. From his entrepreneurialism, innovation, and invention his legacy is in a very real sense the legacy of Apple. Since his death you cannot watch the news, engage with social media, or see a magazine stand that does not feature something about Steve Jobs. What is it about him that makes his story and the tragedy of his death resonate so deeply in our hearts and our culture?We love Steve Jobs because we love his products. Who doesn’t want the latest and greatest Apple product? Whether you have ever owned one of the 304 million i-pods sold as of January 2011 does not change the fact that Steve Job’s products have revolutionized how we consume music, how we consume culture.The sociologist Robert Bierstedt views culture as having three major dimensions.

  • Ideas - ways of thinking,
  • Norms - ways of putting ideas into practice
  • Material Culture - the material things produced for people’s disposal

Now if you consider one’s ideology to be the combination of the way one thinks (ideas) and how one puts those ideas into practice (norms), then technology can equally be understood as the physical product (material culture) and the execution of the ideas that shaped the design and purpose of that object (norms). From Bierstedt’s perspective, culture is fundamentally the relationship between ideology and technology.While this can be understood as a reductionist viewpoint of the complex influences that make up our culture, I believe it helps shed light on why Steve Job’s death is poignant. Bierstedt’s understanding of culture suggests that values are implicit to technology. Instinctively most of us would say that technology is neutral and later shaped as morally “good” or “bad” by the future user. But, if Bierstedt is right, than the implicit goodness or badness of technology begins from its conception in the mind of the creator.In other words, Steve Jobs did not just haphazardly design a product and put it out on the market in hopes that it would sell, yet alone revolutionize our culture. Check out Inc.'s interview with Steve Jobs and you will see that his own understanding of technology’s place in culture fits with Beirstadt’s model. Steve Jobs says in the interview that “really great products come from melding two points of view-the technology point of view and the customer point of view. You need both. You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.” Jobs understood that people and technology equally shape the culture.Why our culture is obsessed with Steve Jobs, is because Steve jobs was obsessed with our culture. He was a profound culture shaper and devoted his life to making technology that he believed would make the world a better place.If there is one thing we should take away from Steve Jobs and the life that he lived, let it be more than the products he left behind or that he did what he loved.  May we take up his spirit to think critically about how technology shapes the world around us. We must consider the merits of technology itself. Instead of assuming that technology is neutral and we have no control on how it is used or abused, let us ask how technology will shape our culture if we do use it. If we do decide to use it, then let’s use it responsibly. Technology is not determined and neither is our culture.Garrett Cichowitz

FeaturedMark Rodgers