Opinion Steve Jobs was a remarkable and fascinating businessman, and by some distance the most interesting and accomplished personality operating in an important corner of the economy. He had a respect for the intelligence of human beings and their ambition, and potential – showing an optimism which is rare in a cynical industry. And Jobs left us far too early.
But we knew what was coming, didn’t we? In the media, a race to the top of Mount Hyperbole, that was easily won by Stephen Fry, with President Obama close behind. And public, showy and stagey displays of public emotion. (Why? Did no one tell you he was ill?).
I actually find all this disrespectful, and as distasteful as any sick joke.
Nobody could be more scathing about mindless technology worship than Steve Jobs. My favourite interview with him was by Gary Wolf, when Jobs was 39, and had realised the utopianism of his generation was shallow, empty and a giant diversion. The web would augment the world, not change it. Far more important, he stressed, was education.
“What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent,” he said before explaining how to dismantle California’s public school system, and replace it with a system that looks very much like Free Schools.
And prophetically, he anticipated the "revolution" of user-generated content, blogs and tweets in this way:
“To be honest, most people who have something to say get published now.”
If Steve Jobs “changed your world”, then I have to ask – how big is your world, exactly? Perhaps it’s quite small.
As AN Wilson writes today, we need some perspective.
"Whereas we once looked information up in a book, we now search for the (often inaccurate) information online. Whereas we once sent telegrams, we now send emails," writes Wilson. "Yes, Steve Jobs made shopping online easier and more attractive. But it is still only shopping."
Many truly life-changing breakthroughs by scientists go uncelebrated, and in courageous defiance of institutions and conventional wisdom. But “boffins” don’t get lachrymose send-offs from strangers. Jobs was a significant figure, but no Nikola Tesla.
The late Norman Borlaug prevented a billion deaths by applying the scientific method to the traditional scattergun approach to crop selection and breeding, creating the "green revolution". India used to have famines 40 years ago – now it exports grain. There are fewer conflicts in the world as a consequence. Women have more reproductive freedom. These are incredible achievements – and earned Borlaug the Nobel Peace Prize. But he received no such adulation, and even earned a few sneers in some obituaries.
What the Jobs hyperbole means is that your world is no bigger than your media. Or your computer. There can’t be a more tragic expression of the internet’s self-absorption.
I doubt if any computer or communications technology will have as far-reaching consequences as the work of Dr Craig Venter, another iconoclast, who in a decade will be producing oil and diesel that’s cheap, low-carbon, and renewable – much to the distress of the doom-mongers.