Steve Jobs died last week, and here I find myself writing about it with all the delayed topicality of a Ben Elton novel. He’s been on my mind for two reasons: first, because he was cracking and, second, because of how he wasn’t.
I couldn’t give half a shit about entrepreneurs making money, I don’t care much about electrical things doing jazzy stuff and I care less about owning things just because they’re new and shiny. But a good 90 percent of the few gadgets I’ve got start with a lower case i and I like how Apple goes about things. Sometimes. I like the whole ‘think differently’ thing that said death to beige boxes and gave us colourful boxes instead. Thinking differently gets you places, like questioning everything gets you places, like ignoring naysayers gets you places.
I like innovation and he was innovative. I like design and he was a designer. I like inspiration and he was inspired and maybe inspirational. I like big people who do stuff, who get stuck in and change things, and he did his share of that.
In the five days since he died, my thoughts have been going to how he did it in a limited field. He made computers more interesting to look at, more fun to use but not more accessible to people on low incomes because they cost a lot. He made the Internet more popular and more portable, putting one of our best inventions in our pockets and connecting humans to each other, but making his products was less fun than using them. In the Foxconn factories where iProducts are made, workers made the news by killing themselves.
Imagine if he’d taken his vision further, thought differently about how money gets made. He could have made the world’s first Fairtrade computer; beautiful to look at, fun to use and screwing no one to make it. He could have made the world’s first ethically sourced smartphone. If one of the world’s richest companies reckons it can’t afford to pay workers properly then what are we saying?
I guess this rambling sums up how it is to buy cool looking stuff you know was made in hellish conditions by people made miserable by them. I love some of these products and I feel bad about it. I thought he was an imaginative guy and I was sad to hear he’d died, and I’m a bit embarrassed admitting it on a site about sweatshops and poverty and Fairtrade.
Photo credit: The Zero