With the passing of Steve Jobs last week, many people expressed their appreciation, admiration profusely. Most people relate to him via iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTouch .....the gadgets he personified. There is no doubt that he was an exceptionally talented technologist and a superb marketer.
I looked at his impact on the society from a different angle.
Was iPod, iPhone, iPad .... revolutionary?
Was iPhone and etc revolutionary? The answer is NO, technology wise. The iPhone, iPad ... and series are basically repackaging of existing technology. The genius in this series of Apple products is packaging and marketing.
Some commentators placed Steve Jobs historically at the summit of technology along with Edison, Ford. But most were careful, and rightfully so, not to attribute it to his work on the development and marketing of the gadgets, but to his pioneer work in the development of personal computers, with Steve Wozniak.
It is important to note that most literature attribute the inventor of PC to Henry Edward Robert.
The impacts of electronic gadgets and internet
The impact of i-series Apple products, along with other gadgets, and advances in internet on human is historical. They make personal communication, personnel entertainment so much more convenient, which can be achieved essentially any time, any where.
The negative impacts of electronic gadgets and internet are significant as well.
First and foremost is the negative impact on person to person interaction. On one hand it facilitates personal communications, on the other hand, it significantly reduces person to person interaction, especially in the young. Many people text each other more than they talk to each other.
It facilitates distractions from real work - be it being work work, or study for students. It has fostered a generation of young people who can not concentrate on real work, who do not know how to separate leisure from work or study.
Politically, it helps to make the vocal minority louder than ever before.
Is electronic gadget industry GREEN?
One tribute to Steve Jobs was that he demanded perfection in making iPod, iPhone ...instead of using plastic cases for the devices, he insisted on using Aluminum, which made i-series device shiny, slick and fashionable. There is no problem to it if the purpose is to make the devices to last.
From sustainability point of view, the issue with Apple and electronic gadget industry in general is that they encourage people to ditch their perfectly functional gadgets for newer, more fashionable new generation of devices. Unfortunately many young people are addicted to the newest and the gadget industry has its way. Even worse, for those who want to be frugal and fashionable at the same time, they could not hang on to the older devices because there are new functions that are purposely developed not to play on older devices! Worst of all, it is cheaper to buy new gadgets than to repair them. One such practice is highlighted by a headline like this " Apple's pentlobe screws for iPhone take "planed obsolescence to the next level".
Of course it is not just gadget industry, it is the electronic industry, and consumer product industry in general. “E-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream because people are upgrading their mobile phones, computers, televisions, audio equipment and printers more frequently than ever before. Mobile phones and computers are causing the biggest problem because they are replaced most often.”
This leads to million tons electronic waste every year. In the process of depleting natural resources, the e-waste also pose threat to the environment and thus potentially harm human life indirectly. In this sense, Apple's i-series devices and their marketing practice helped to amplify this waste.
I am not a fan of electronic gadgets and I resisted purchasing such devices until I saw its practical use for my family. We did not have a cellphone until 2000 and we don't upgrade our cellphones until they are not functional any more. We used our first home computer for nearly 10 years until we had problems with its operating system which Microsoft no long supported. We did not buy any Apple's i-series device until last year - we purchased an iTouch for our teenage son. All functions iTouch provides are available on our second home computer, the convenience it provides, also bring tremendous distractions to him from study and sleep, and headaches to me.
His commencement speech at Stanford was replayed many times on network news. It was a great reflection on life. I found its full text at Stanford's website. I read it and I appreciate it more. I excerpt a few paragraphs from it.
"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on." I can not agree more because I have a similar approach to work and life.
He also said: " .... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." So true!! But the generation iPod, iPhone, iTouch .. fostered is exactly the opposite what he pitched. They follow the crowd, they want the newest gadgets because they are new, in fashion and everyone else has it. I don't blame him for it - it is consumerism that our economy is based on, it is the consumerism that drives all business.
Steve Jobs, an exceptionally talented technologist and a superb marketer, a person followed his own heart in life, rest in peace.