Wednesday, November 02, 2011


"Everyone who cares about music and art and movies and heroic comebacks and rich rewards and being able to carry several kinds of infinity around in your shirt pocket is taken aback by this sudden huge vacuuming-out of a titanic presence from our lives. We've lost our techno-impresario and digital dream granter."

Thus, and much more, wrote Nicholson Baker in The New Yorker of October 17, 2011, grieving the death of Steve Jobs. As usual when writing about anything but his libido, Baker is full of crap. No towering figure of invention has passed. Nothing Jobs devised, alone or with his employees, has changed history as decidedly as the telegraph, the internal combustion engine, the motion picture camera, or even air conditioning. He was simply the most dynamic gadget salesman in history. He convinced millions of consumers that they could not possibly leave the house without a device which would enable them to locate a tapas bar in Towson, Maryland, play Angry Birds, listen to the complete works of Pearl Jam and, in a pinch, even make a phone call. They mourn him the way an earlier generation of affluent, permanent children mourned Unca Walt Disney: He sold them new ways to amuse themselves. And exactly what the hell does "several kinds of infinity" mean? "Infinity" is now just another empty Apple word, like "genius."

Are these ubiquitous devices making life better, or just making it cruder? Have you tried to talk to someone who keeps glancing down at a screen where something more engaging might have appeared? Is it helpful that millions of self-involved key-thumpers can fill Twitface with their witless observations and quotidian updates from practically every place but the bottom of the Marianas Trench? Do we really want our shirt pockets to contain a phone which makes it easy for persons and agencies unknown to pinpoint our locations? I don't want to sound libertarian/paranoid, but if I want the police to know where I am, I could probably arrange to be fitted with an electronic monitoring device, at little or no cost to myself. And I do care about "music and art and movies," just as I did when I discovered them in concert halls and museums and movie theaters. I mourn for those who never will, and will have no idea what has been taken from their lives -- not for Steve Jobs.