Steve Jobs: excellent maker of consumer electronics – but not a God

In this guest post, Adam Ferrier reckons that the world got a bit carried away with the death of the man behind Apple.

The Naked office is a reasonably fun and happy place. On the whole it’s free of workplace bullying, and most people clock in and out at a reasonable hour.  However, recently something happened that caused great upset to our staff – it was beyond our control and very worrying.  There were group emails sent around with messages of condolence, and perhaps even a tear or two.  However, it wasn’t just our office – the same scenes of morning could be seen right across the world. What happened?

Well…. Last week a very good manufacturer of consumer electronics died, Steve Jobs.

After his death The Economist describes Steve Jobs as a man who “Stood out in three ways – as a technologist, as a corporate leader and as somebody who was able to make people love what had previously been impersonal, functional gadgets.”

Could not have said it better myself.

We are living in a world where there is an unparalleled outpouring of grief for someone who has made us fall in love with our PDA’s, computers, and MP3’s.

What the fuck?

I could be wrong but I think this is the first time a manufacturer of consumer electronics goods death has caused so much distress.  The reason why I want to bring this to attention is not that Steve Jobs doesn’t deserve to be lauded for his achievements, he certainly does.

However, it’s what this outpouring of sentiment says about us that I worry about. Why are we so upset that someone who made us fall in love with electronic gadgets has died? Here’s a possible explanation.

I’ve long held the view that Generation Y (and even more so Z) are the least marketing savvy generation to ever walk the planet.  They are increasingly inept at deciphering marketing spin from genuine value for money.  Further, they espouse that ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ are crucial for successful marketers. Yet if the brand is strong or cool enough they are happy to overlook a dodgy manufacturing back end that may exploits human rights. People are being trained to love consumerism, and the younger we are, the more developed the country they are living in, then the more complete the training has become.

We are being trained to want excessively, and the London riots are a shiver inducing example of what can happen when you make a generation of people desire what they can’t have.

We are bamboozling our younger members of society with unadulterated messages of consumerism to the point where a person who, “…was able to make people love what had previously been impersonal, functional gadgets” (The Economists words not mine), is revered in the space that should be saved for human rights campaigners, politicians who make the world a better place, providers of world peace, and scientists who have eradicated disease.

Even our broadsheet newspapers are confused – describing Steve Jobs on the front page of Saturday’s paper as “The man who changed mankind” (I bet the sub-editor who wrote this is under 30).

As I write this on my MacBook Pro and use my iPhone to look up references do I feel a twinge of hypocrisy?

Not in the slightest.

I enjoy my Apple products to varying degrees.  My MacBook Pro is easy to use but crashes all the time, my iPhone I persist with even though it just doesn’t work as a business tool, and my iPad sits in a top drawer – same place its been since a week after a bought it a year ago.  However, I also get satisfaction and frustration from other consumer electronic products too.  The point is, no matter how cute Apple products look, and how well they work (or don’t), they are not other people. They are not world peace. They are not the cure for cancer.

Steve Jobs was obviously a brilliant man, and I respect his business, the jobs he’s created, and the products he’s given birth to. Yet at the same time I worry about our society becoming so consumption focused that we misattribute the makers of consumer electronics to being the equivalent of modern day gods.

So for an alternative point of view on consumerism have a look here.  In the meantime, how about a little perspective?

Adam Ferrier is founding partner and consumer psychologist at Naked Communications


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