Readings: The Cathedral of Steve Jobs

New York’s Fifth Avenue has four cathedrals within a nine blocks of one another. Start with Saint Patrick’s where perhaps two dozen assemble daily for 8:00 a.m. Mass. Descend the steps and immediately across the street the giant iron Atlas holds the world on his massive shoulders at the entrance to Rockefeller Center. A few blocks north and you may bow to Abercrombie & Fitch where, in warm weather, shirtless muscular ushers greet the swarm of twenty-somethings streaming around the block to come in and pay.  

But the most awesome shrine stands at Central Park South, across from the legendary Plaza Hotel, the cathedral of Steve Jobs, where  the new redesigned giant glass cube, 33 X 33 feet, looms above the subterranean Apple store, and the lines, mostly from the Eastern World, stream down from Park Ave, waiting since early morning to buy the latest iThing. The day Jobs died hundreds (thousands?) of tiny stickers adorned the construction wall mourning the loss of the prophet. Someone even uttered “saint.”

As the tributes piled high I waited for a journalist to put the man in perspective. Eric Alterman, the columnist I wait most anxiously to read, said it best in The Nation: "The Agony and Ecstacy—and 'Disgrace' of Steve Jobs." In spite of the many ways in which Jobs’s products improved our lives, he was only a hero in the Ayn Randian sense, a living character out of Atlas Shrugged, who treated his people like serfs and “hoarded his $8.3 billion fortune to no apparent purpose.” Apple, says Alterman, is a wonderful company for its customers and investors, but “also an engine of misery for its subcontracted Chinese workers.” Alterman is primarily a media critic, but also a historian, and his great talent is to take a story that the professional media have bungled, out of laziness or bias or both, and set it straight. The treatment of Jobs’s life is a testament to “how enthralled our media are by the myth of a man’s talismanic qualities,  and how easily manipulated most reporters are by wealthy, successful entrepreneurs.”

Alterman recounts the investigative work of monologist Mike Daisey who went to China to investigate the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, where 420,000 workers turn out computer products for Apple and other companies. He found 34-hour shifts, beatings, child labor, and an epidemic of suicides in a prison-camp atmosphere. Jobs didn’t care.

And what has Jobs done with all his money? He has sat on it. Including another $76 billion in cash resting in a Nevada corporation invented to store his money in a  “tax-advantageous manner,” in a state with no corporate or capital-gains taxes. Alterman contrasts Jobs with Bill Gates who  is “devoting the better part of his fortune to improving the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people.” Jobs told his biographer that Gates was “unimaginative and has never invented anything”  and therefore is “more comfortable in philanthropy.”  Alterman quotes Andrew Carnegie: “The man who, dies disgraced.”

Maybe Carnegie read the Gospel of Luke’s  parable (12:16-21) about the rich man who grew more crops than he could store. So rather than share, he built bigger barns to store his grain and goods, so he could “relax, eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose shall they be?”

Raymond A. Schroth

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david power
6 years 3 months ago
Wonderful observations Fr Schroth.Everything is given, the next ten minutes of our lives are ontologically dependent on an Other!
Carnegie is the true model as he explained very well his philosophy and he truly lived out his ideas.Most of us are trapped in the same logic as Wall Street and Jobs.We no longer see the value of anything and our gratitude and sense of what we are   receiving is limited  .
This is due to our lack of Religion in the deepest meaning of the word. 
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 3 months ago
Perhaps the money wasn't real to him, or the Chinese workers, or us.  He was able to put together technological advancements in pretty packages that people liked to buy.  He did move forward with technology developed by Xerox while Xerox management was sitting on their thumbs.  He never was a hero to me for his money or the technology packaging.  And I've never owned an Apple product.  Now the guys who actually figured out how to miniaturize circuits and develop the flat panel displays,  and other supporting technologies, who you never hear of, they are impressive to me.

Or maybe, Jobs just stole it all from Area 51 where they keep the crashed flying saucer.  See it on the History Channel!
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 3 months ago
A good essay, distinguishing between the generous, such as the super-rich Bill Gates, George Mitchell, Warren Buffet, et al, and the parsimonious Jobs, more well thought of by many chic, elitist liberals because they enjoy his cool hitech products and his in-your-face, rock star, counter culture image of irreverence. (We should bear in mind, however, that Jobs favored paying excellent teachers well and generally demanding reform for our public school system for the good of the nation.) We should exercise the same evenhandedness when evaluating the generous, very rich Dick Cheney, and the parsimonious, merely rich Joe Biden. It's not the cliches that count. It's who walks the walk, not who talks the talk, starting with each one of us.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 3 months ago
One of my complaints about modern medical technology is that it keeps Cheney breathing the air on the same planet as myself.  Cheney's charity, whatever it is, is a molecule in a bucket compared to all the damage he did to the country, the environmental laws, the killed and injured both American and other, the rights of Americans.  Chickenhawk Cheney can take his charity, roll it up in a tight ball and......................
John Barbieri
6 years 3 months ago
Steve Jobs was a marketing genius and a celebrity. He was not a hero. But he never pretended to be anything else. Was he very generous? Apparently not! But his fortune was his to spend or not spend as he saw fit. Let's not be self-righteous about how we would use what wasn't and isn't ours.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 3 months ago
Whoa, John.  If he made his money exploiting Chinese slave labor, his absolute ownership of his billions was greatly in doubt.   You could say he stole it fair and square.  In his favor, you could also say he made the money wiithout the level of corruption and destruction of a BP.  So relative to those scumbags, I guess he IS a saint.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 3 months ago
We're all a mixed bag of goods (and bads), and Steve Jobs is no exception. 

But we all have some gift to bring to our brothers and sisters, and it seems to me that Steve Jobs was faithful to what it was that he was born to be, despite his failings.

I'm almost finished with the biography by Walter Isaacson, and have highlighted a few things along the way ...

Location 5698 (on Kindle): "I always understood the beauty of things made by hand.  I came to realize that what was really important was the care that was put into it.  What I really despise is when I sense some carelessness in a product."

Location 6009: "The better way is to go deeper with simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it's manufactured.  You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of parts that are not essential."

Location 6014 : "Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers."

Location 8750: [When talking to Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and New York Post] "The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive, and you've cast your lot with the destructive people.  Fox has become an incredibly destructive force in our society.  You can be better, and this is goint to be your legacy if you're not careful."

Yes, he could have done more, and done better (couldn't we all?).  But in my way of seeing, Steve Jobs gave what he could, in the way that he could, and I think that the world is better off because he did.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 3 months ago
another thing - this article seems to me to be judging Steve Jobs by what he did with his money.  As far as I can tell, Steve was mostly undisturbed by and unattached to money, having it or making it. He once had to tell a friend who was negotiating a contract so as to extract the most profit - "you already have enough money".  Money was not a driving force for him. 
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 3 months ago
one MORE thing :-) ... I'm not sure that the journalists have all bungled the story about Steve Jobs but I'm pretty sure that this article by Fr. Schroth has.

For one thing, there is too much junk in the world.  Almost without exception, companies in this country and all around the world, are single mindedly focused on profit.  What the companies make is almost irrelevant, as long they can make it sell.  The salesmen are valued over the production engineers.  Steve Jobs singlehandedly showed that a successful company that valued the product over the profit, could be built.  Jobs passion was product, not profit.

If you ask me, this is a profound turnaround and breakthrough in how we do business.  It can change the dynamic of how we value work - something that is sorely needed in the world.

Fr. Schroth claims that "Jobs didn't care" about the working conditions of the Chinese who were producing his products.  As a matter of fact, in the last year before he died, President Obama met with Jobs and other technology CEOs in Silicon valley.  While the other CEOs were talking mostly about what the country could do to help their companies, Jobs was focused on what could be done about education in this country so that manufacturing could be moved back to the USA, employing many more people here.  His interest was not profit for his company, but a better product which would result in a better way for many more people to work.

Jobs was not a perfect man.  For one thing, he lacked social graces and the ability to empathize by putting himself in another's shoes.  But his vision was large and deep, and he has changed the world in way that can make it a better place for all of us, and for that I will call him a hero.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 3 months ago
One more note from my highlights ...

At the end of his life Jobs asked an old friend, "Tell me, what was I like when I was young?"

The friend answered honestly: "you were very inpetuous and very difficult ... But your vision was compelling.  You told us, 'The journey is the reward,' That turned out to be true."
Location 9235


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