The consumer as revolutionary: Steve Jobs’ brilliant, delusional, dystopian vision
The below-linked essay is, bar none, the single best piece I’ve read about the vision, legacy, and very dark long-term cultural implications of Steve Jobs and Apple. The writer, Evgeny Morozov (author of 2011’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom), delves into the deep history and philosophy of Jobs’ and Apple’s approach to consumer technology design and culture change, and states the upshot in forceful, elegant, and thoroughly disturbing terms.
Apple’s most incredible trick, accomplished by marketing as much as by philosophy, is to allow its customers to feel as if they are personally making history — that they are a sort of spiritual-historical elite, even if there are many millions of them. The purchaser of an Apple product has been made to feel like he is taking part in a world-historical mission, in a revolution-and Jobs was so fond of revolutionary rhetoric that Rolling Stone dubbed him “Mr. Revolution.”
[…] No wonder that the counterculture fizzled in the early 1980s: everyone was promised they could change the world by buying a Macintosh. Linking Apple to the historical process (Hegel comes to Palo Alto!), and convincing the marketplace that the company always represented the good side in any conflict, broke new ground in promotional creativity. Jobs turned to the power of culture to sell his products. He was a marketing genius because he was always appealing to the meaning of life. With its first batch of computers, Apple successfully appropriated the theme of the decentralization of power in technology—then also present in the deep ecology and appropriate technology movements — that was so dear to the New Left a decade earlier. If people were longing for technology that was small and beautiful — to borrow E.F. Schumacher’s then-popular slogan — Jobs would give it to them. Apple allowed people who had missed all the important fights of their era to participate in a battle of their own — a battle for progress, humanity, innovation. And it was a battle that was to be won in the stores. As Apple’s marketing director in the early 1980s told Esquire, “We all felt as though we had missed the civil rights movement. We had missed Vietnam. What we had was the Macintosh.” The consumer as revolutionary: it was altogether brilliant, and of course a terrible delusion.
More at “Form and Fortune: Steve Jobs’ pursuit of perfection — and the consequences,” The New Republic, February 22, 2012