"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."
This is Emes, pure and simple.
I once heard a recorded shiur from Rabbi Dr. Johnny Krug in which he talked about how our consumerism has gone so far that we take the "use it and throw it away" approach to our relationships as well, especially marriage. He said that we're so used to the idea of disposable products, which are there for our convenience but have none of the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep as real glass or metal utensils, that we think we can do that to spouses as well. If he/she doesn't do exactly what I want, doesn't please me the way I want, or if someone tells me something better is out there - out he/she goes, and I'm on to the next spouse.
It's a disturbing, sickening way to think and live, no "if"s, "and"s, or "but"s.
Don't get me wrong, Steve Jobs was a revolutionary designer and businessman. We certainly owe him gratitude for the wonderful products he helped create, produce and market. He had a unique creative genius that won't soon be replaced.
However, as I began to read all the news reports, articles, and quotations that came out after his recent death, I came to the conclusion that all Steve Jobs was could be encapsulated by his accomplishments in the business world. As a moral person, he was no role model whatsoever, as a number of prominent events from his life attest to, such as cheating his friend and future partner Steve Wozniak out of a bonus at work, or leaving his pregnant girlfriend after she refused to have an abortion.
When ASoG and I were in an airport recently waiting for our connecting flight, I walked over to the nearby bookstore and flipped through a few of the prominently displayed books about Jobs. One book was a large listing of quotes on various subjects. I was struck by a particular quote that talked about the production of Toy Story 2 by Pixar, which he owned at the time. Jobs spoke about working his employees to the bone, making them miss family occasions/celebrations, holidays, and weekends for an extended period of time to make sure the movie was released on schedule. Jobs said it was grueling and difficult at the time, but the product was entirely worth it and he thinks his employees would agree.
I enjoyed the movie, but my perception of it now is a bit tainted by the fact that Jobs forced people to slave away and miss parts of their lives for the sake of a product, work of art, or whatever you want to call it. I don't think that's right - and Jobs did this a lot in his Apple product design and development as well. I read numerous pieces that talked about how much of an unforgiving task master he was in controlling his employees. None of that is something to be proud of or worth emulating. A true leader can and should inspire greatness in those in his charge without resorting to the tactics that Steve Jobs did.
A real model of leadership worth emulating can be found in Rabbi Sacks' essay on the concept of Jewish leadership based in the parshiyos Nitzavim-Vayelech here.
Another huge critique I discovered of Steve Jobs following his death was the fact that despite all the enormous sums of money he earned for his products, he never became a philanthropist of any sort. A short time before Jobs' death, reporters wrote about the breaking news that Apple had more cash than the US Government. These writers joked about President Obama looking to Jobs for a loan to help with the debt crisis. It was funny then, but not so funny to me now when I think about the fact that Jobs never did anything charitable with all his money. In my mind, anyone with a significant amount of wealth should use it wise to give and benefit others in need, as Jobs' rival, Bill Gates has done in co-founding The Giving Pledge.
In many ways, Steve Jobs was a big jerk. Yes, he revolutionized the way we compute, listen to music, and browse the internet/media with the Apple/Mac computer, iPod/iTunes, and iPad. But when it comes down to it, his lasting legacy is giving the world a bunch of fancy toys to play with.
As we say in Tehillim 49:17, which is recited at funerals - "When he dies, he shall take nothing with him. His wealth/honor will not descend after him."
I'm not writing this post to besmirch the name of Steve Jobs - I think he did that well enough himself while he was living. I want to support Rabbi Sacks' remarks, because I believe he is correct in his criticism. His message is one that we all need to hear - and that Steve Jobs may have benefited from, had he been given the chance.
Let us enjoy the gifts we have, and recognize their source as Koheles says 3:13 "And also every man should eat and drink and enjoy pleasure (or I might translate: see good) in his labor - it is a gift from G-d." I hope that we can all learn to lead lives that are charitable and full of caring for others. No one said that we should live austere lives without pleasure, rather, we should live comfortably within our means - and make sure to give to and do chesed for others less fortunate than we.
And in doing so, let's focus on what's really important, as the penultimate posuk in Koheles (12:13) says: "The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear G-d, and keep His mitzvos; for this is the whole of man."