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

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on March 12, 2012, in Society & Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’m reposting here my reply from Facebook, with a few minor alterations:

    I don’t find that article persuasive. I’ve used Apple computers (and now an iPhone and iPad) since 1986. I was a college dropout with no real workplace skills and a dislike of computers. But a friend got a Mac Plus and I started playing around with it. Not much later, we started producing an alternative newspaper and distributing it around his campus. I then found a job doing very basic layout at a tiny newspaper, using their Mac do to do typesetting. I then leapfrogged into designing ads, then laying out magazines. I taught myself Photoshop, video editing, then HTML and web design.

    Apple computers, for me, were absolutely revolutionary. The technology allowed me, with zero formal training in technology, to master skills that have allowed me to work at senior-level positions in university jobs and to create professional website, video documentaries, and much more. I could not have done that if I had instead sat in front of a PC in 1986. The Apple computer interface has always been remarkably easy to enter and technically seamless enough that it didn’t send me running away screaming from meaningless error codes and driver conflicts and all the horrors associated with Windows.

    So it’s difficult for me to criticize Jobs and his vision, because his vision has allowed me to craft a career and a livelihood from scratch. As an artist, I appreciate what Apple has given to me—great tools that allow me to express my vision. One can criticize Jobs for his personality flaws and criticize his company for its flaws, but my world is much better for having them both. And I’m far from unique.

    Apple is an easy target—everyone loves to tear down successful people and companies. And the criticisms of the use of Chinese sweatshops is absolutely warranted (though, again, Apple is no worse—and in some ways, better—than their competitors, all of whom use the same Chinese factories). But if Apple didn’t exist, we’d still live in essentially the same technological culture, only the objects we use to communicate and create things would be much more difficult to work with, uglier, and not as interesting. If we are to use technological tools, why shouldn’t they be artful, useful, and easy?

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