October 7, 2011 Economics, Technology Comments (3) 1464

2011 – Steve Jobs dies and the world of Apple loyalists expresses their loss.


This summer during one of my trips to China it seems to me that everyone in China has an iPad. I mention this to some of my Chinese friends and they say it is because they are trying to be trendy, not because they need it. It is conspicuous consumption, they say. But why?


I was always a Mac, even though I used PCs at work from 1983 through 1996. Here are moments in time iRemember:

1984 – I saw the “Big Blue” ad during the Superbowl and loved it. It certified that Macintosh and Apple were about independence, in action and thought. It was cool, like all the computers and devices to come, and it resonated with a fundamental American idea that you didn’t have to go along with the crowd. Somehow Apple and Jobs kept that resonance, even as Apple became briefly the world’s biggest corporation – it was still anti-corporate in some way, and today we have the odd confluence of people protesting the influence of corporations on government and the economy while offering flowers to one of the biggest corporate leaders of this generation.

1987 – I bought my first personal computer, an Apple 512ke, because Apple was the creative kind of computer, because even though it was more expensive it was better for graphics and artists and somehow it was not as corporate as a PC. It was creative and alternative. I knew I was a Mac.

1988 – I met my wife, who also had an Apple and in fact was an Apple certified technician, which gave her both artistic validity and street cred although of course it was not called street cred in 1988.

1991 – Felicity is buying the latest Apples and Apple clones. Often they are quite expensive, but she is teaching the School of the Art Institute’s first digital photography classes.

1996 – We are sitting in Viejo Vallarta with a two-month old daughter at dinner while people at the next table are discussing Apple, which is trading at $8 a share. They say the company is dead and its attempt to overtake the PC a failure. I feel a combination of inchoate anger and powerlessness in the face of injustice. I don’t buy any stock, but my brother did, to his credit and great advantage.

1998 – I get my first laptop, a black Apple that is quite large and heavy by modern standards. We take it to Ireland.

2004 – I get the 12″ Powerbook that is still my favorite computer. I write most of a book and a dissertation on this compact little beast.

2006 – I love the “I’m a Mac” ads because they confirm the cultural boundaries that have defined us Apple types since at least 1984. We are the good guys: cool, creative.

2007 – I rant in this blog about my brief experience with the iPod, which was quickly stolen. I fail to understand the nature of the consumer economy, which is a fundamental human nature, and think that iDon’t Need it. But of course that is the wrong question.

The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal writes “Steve Jobs determined long ago that his imagination, and that of those working under him, far outstripped ours, and so Apple devices were introduced to do things most consumers couldn’t conceive of until he demonstrated what was possible.”

Even beyond these devices which define the modern world and erase former political and cultural boundaries, Steve Jobs and Apple proved the lie that there is a rational consumer. What people buy for themselves, from houses and perfumes and shoes and cars and electronics and fancy vodkas, can not be understood by any sort of needs assessment. They are cultural products, items of self-identity and group identity, and when we thrive we thrive because we want this stuff, not because it makes us healthy or wealthy or popular but because it makes us feel the way we feel when we have those dreams where we can fly, soaring impossibly above the earth, or those moments of love that redound through every fiber of our being. This man who died gave us cultural products but more than that he gave us a new economy of culture. As I said in this blog recently, the tricky reality of technology is not THINGS, but RELATIONSHIPS.


this is a relationship

Others can worry about what will happen to the company now that its guru has passed on. As a historian, I only know that this new relationship, this new cultural economy, will never end.

3 Responses to :

  1. I’ve been kinda awed by the internet buzz about his death and how so many, including myself, have commented about the late Mr. Jobs.

    My first personal experience with a computer was with the Apple II or IIe that Labs Schools heavily invested in. So many games (Zork, Hitchhiker’s, and Logo programing!). My best friend’ father bought an early Mac and he would regale me the early Dr. Who game “Daleks” and his Mac version of the “Cheers” theme. I was lucky that my parents listened to my urging and bought an Apple IIc that I obsessed over until they gave in to a PC machine in the early 90s. My RISD connection continued with a series of Macs, but it was that pre-internet/digital era. John Scully spoke at graduation with the promise of computing in the palm of your hand! When his promise came to the surface, it was charcoal grey with the splash of the old-school Apple rainbow.Uninspiring. I didn’t get serious about computing until it was closer to what Star Trek promised in the mid-2000s. After a bad time with a crappy Chinese PC knock-off, I went straight to a black MacBook that I am writing this on. I’ve also gone through a few iPods and iPhones. I have to admit that I am a fan. Way to go Steve!

  2. webology24 says:

    I got my first Apple product at the university when they first came out on the market…They were simply amazing…they never stopped getting better and better…I still have Apple products in my home today and probably will for the rest of my life…Strange days…Should have invested money in Apple way back when, right? RATS! 🙂

  3. webology24 says:

    My heart goes out to Steve Jobs’s wife and his family and I’m so sorry he passed away so early in life. Robbie Shymanski’s comments are a powerful statement how one man can change the world for millions. It’s an amazing thought. Thanks for sharing!

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