Let me be up front. I’m an Apple fan boy. My reasons are somewhat different to others. You see, my main operating system has always been Unix. Accordingly, I couldn’t and wouldn’t use Windows. For me, as a Computer Scientist, Windows was summarised by
sorry, you can’t do that
we don’t speak to other computers
I’ve used the internet for longer than probably any of my readers. I was using it in the early 80’s. I still dislike using Microsoft Word because I find myself wasting time wrestling with it. It’s better than it was, but the only reason it exists on my computer is because sometimes I have to read or pass on documents in that format.
That didn’t change when Apple came on the block. I still stuck to Unix, and I typeset my documents in troff using vi and then moved to LaTeX and used to get excited setting up my .xwindowsrc files. Don’t even ask how happy I was when motif came on the horizon and how I’d come to my office early just so I could get onto the Blit terminal. Yes, we had one.
Apple Computers though were a curiosity. They were cute, they were innovative. They broke the mould (sic). There were aspects that I didn’t like, but increasingly they represented the wellsprings of salvation from the Microsoft Coultergeist. For a number of years when I worked at CITRI, I inherited a Mac and started playing with it. It never replaced my usual computer. That was until … OSX was born (Cheetah to be precise).
All of a sudden, I had the best of both worlds. I had Unix as the underbelly (no pun intended) and an appealing interface. When the first Palm Pilot was released, I was so excited, I imported one from the USA. I hated the idea of a paper diary. With my band, I’d often get asked are you available for a wedding a year later, or a Bar Mitzvah two years later. My diary didn’t go that far, and I was terrified that if I lost it, I’d double book.
Then came the iPod. I had the first one. I had to have it. My music (or part of it) was in my hands. No more using a decca_record_brush and special fluids to keep my vinyl in tip-top condition. Now the i in iPod was about the i in internet. It was about connectivity and new network technology.
The rest is history. We moved to iMacs, iPhones, and now iPads. They happen to be great gadgets and for me, also tools of my trade.
The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, in an article decrying the i-need generation, stated:
“The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.”
“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”
He went on: “What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.
“If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you’ve got an iPhone but you haven’t got a fourth generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.”
I normally find myself in complete agreement with Rabbi Sacks’ elegant and thought-provoking essays and books. He is one of the most profound expositors of our tradition to the outside world and is respected outside of Judaism. On this issue, however, I disagree.
There is scant evidence to suggest that Steve Jobs “laid down” the consumer society. If this was true, then why did Rabbi Sacks wait for Jobs to die before he made this allegation? The consumer society is ubiquitous. Some do it better than others. To say that it was “laid down” by one company is, in my estimation an exercise in posthumous polemic. I understand that the Chief Rabbi is unhappy that we are apparently so consumed by what we perceive we need, and that many of us are not sensitised to what others need, but I feel that his argument is facile.
When I started with computers, I had one run per day. I agonised over a set of punch cards that was to represent my best attempt at making something happen. A single error, and I had to wait for the next day. Things improved. First there were multiple runs per day and I received instant feedback and became more productive. I used to come into University early so that I could “hog” one of the terminals. Was this an iHog or was this the normal progression of a society that provided answers and opportunities quicker and better?
I became more contactable when the mobile phone was invented. This helped my music business. Clients were able to contact me immediately and find out whether they could get the best band for their simcha! I wasn’t entirely happy though. I had a palm pilot in one pocket, and a mobile phone in the other. I couldn’t synchronise my palm pilot unless I was tethered to a single computer. When the Palm Treo came out, I was ecstatic. It had an annoying bulging aerial, but it meant that finally I could have one piece of electronics in my pocket. Things didn’t synchronise as well with my Apple computer, but I didn’t mind. It was my choice. I liked Apple’s operating system and I liked my Treo. Those who used Windows had better connectivity and a wider range of software and devices. I was an idealist. In fact most Apple fan boys were likewise. They knew that archaic hebrew formats didn’t render in microsoft’s version of word for mac, but they persisted. If, as Rabbi Sacks would have it, we i-Consumed fan boys and girls wanted the quickest and best, perhaps we would have gone for the Windows-based solutions; after all, they were also a lot cheaper.
No, Rabbi Sacks. Those of us who followed Steve Jobs’ products did so because they were simply the best and he represented the pursuit of excellence to the most minute, and mostly anal detail.
It’s a nice Drosha, and maybe some will like your populist inferences, but on this occasion Rabbi Sacks, I think you’ve missed the mark and chosen a target that can’t answer you.
Even the windows fan boys and girls begrudgingly admit to the efficacy of Jobs’ vision of elegance, connectivity and “it just works”. If not for Jobs, they wouldn’t even have their sub-standard el-cheapo Android devices 🙂
Do we really think the Zune failed because it wasn’t called i-Zune?