On the Death of Steve Jobs

I think Steve Jobs’ death is pretty profound. He was a public intellectual, a man who was responsible for a lot of things that a lot of people loved and still love. He created a company with sheer will and investment capital, and it took a toll on his health. I’m not going to argue that we killed Steve Jobs, but I am going to get close.

We are probably responsible for his death. You see, Steve Jobs was under a massive amount of stress at all times. He knew that every time he went to the hospital that Apple stock would drop significantly. He couldn’t speak publicly about his illness.

Which is weird, right? The Apple aesthetic is one of community. A Mac user shares an aesthetic experience with another Mac user, some fundamental way of experiencing the digital world, but Steve Jobs can’t talk about cancer in public without sapping the strength out of his company–Jobs became a stone for Apple.

So I think this is an interesting time to talk about communal guilt. Communal mourning, sure, but you can ask Scu about that, it’s not my bag. This is a moment of pure affect in the world, where anger and sadness and confusion bloom in the field of emotive production.

We should probably feel guilty. We supported an exclusion of Steve Jobs from being able to talk about his cancer publicly. In a way, it’s the reverse of the ageing rock star who sits on stage and tells us about his struggles with alcohol. She is loved for overcoming; Jobs was vilified for suffering.

And we see this happening a lot. Amy Winehouse’s death carried the same tune. The entire West killed Winehouse; we rejoiced in her obvious mental issues, her drug abuse, her becoming-dead, and when it happened, we mourned it. We graduated her to a club–a club you have to be dead to enter.

What did that do for her? What did that do for Jobs? All the mourning in the world can’t change the fact that we did it. We created the conditions for it to happen. We are certainly culpable.

Moments of tragedy should give us the chance to reflect on what we did. On how we are responsible for this. And maybe, just maybe, we could think about how these images of Steve Jobs and Amy Winehouse in their best moments, surrounded by inspirational quotes, might detract from our ability to see larger instances of culpability and obligation.

Let’s think about silver mines. Let’s think about what it means to have enough aluminum to fill every store you know about with 12-packs of soda and beer. Let’s think about plastic islands in the Pacific.

Let’s think, for one second, about what we’re doing.

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3 Responses to On the Death of Steve Jobs

  1. Interesting argument, though I disagree with it. Jobs was pretty famously private even before the cancer, and he lived much longer than anyone with pancreatic cancer ever does. I don’t think public opinion was stopping him from talking about his illness–there are plenty of tech reporters who would have loved to have known what was up with that.

    • kunzelman says:

      I don’t think it’s a question of if people would have listened–that’s definitely a yes. But Jobs is the first person whose personal health directly correlated to the health of a company, aesthetically and monetarily, so when I say that he couldn’t speak, it was more that he was not allowed to.

      Private or not, I think there’s something to it, but I recognize that the argument is…suspicious.

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