Please Stop Hauling Out Steve Jobs' Ghost

Illustration for article titled Please Stop Hauling Out Steve Jobs' Ghost

It is easy to speak for the dead—after all, they can't correct you. You can safely put words in the mouths of the deceased and trot their lifeless bodies out in public to wag a finger or nod in approval, with no fear that they'll complain. This is especially true of Steve Jobs.


It's tempting to say "Steve Jobs would have done this," or "Steve Jobs would not have done that" because he was a familiar figure and we do have a good idea of his sensibilities. But that's a lazy rhetorical device, and it's devoid of real meaning. If it did have any authority you wouldn't see, for example, people arguing both sides of an issue—like whether or not he would have approved of the new iPad.

Thing is, the one thing we know about Steve Jobs above all else is that he was an iconoclast who defied expectations. He took big risks and anticipated market changes long before the rest of us did. One of my favorite stories about Jobs is that he killed off the iPod Mini just when it was Apple's best-selling iPod. Who saw that coming? He built an entire persona around surprising us. That makes it really hard to say with any certainty what he would or would not have done. Oh so you think you know what Steve Jobs would do? Then why haven't you already done it, smart guy?

After his death, Steve Jobs has become a critic of software, language, logos and product names (sometimes all at once!). He weighed in on the look of the new Apple TV. He poo-pooed Apple's decision to pay its shareholders dividends. He posthumously expressed his support for Occupy Wall Street and, conversely, the one-percenters safety school of choice, Hampton Sydney College. In fact, he now loves private schools, like Madison Preparatory Academy. His ghost would enjoy reading a book about Saul Bass, as well as several of his own obituaries.

That trope is particularly galling when it's used to ask and answer in the affirmative. Would Steve Jobs have released the new iPad? Yes! How do you know that? Did you ask him with your Ouija Board? Talk to the Ghost Whisperer? Take a bunch of acid? And what am I to think when I see someone arguing the counter point?

It's pointless drivel that does nothing to advance an argument. It's the same bullshit you see about America's Founding Fathers. "The Founding Fathers never would have supported a moon base!" How can you contradict that? How can you argue with anyone who pretends to know the wishes of the dead?


And ultimately, so what? If Steve Jobs were Apple, the company would have gone out of business before his body was in the ground. They are not one and the same. Sure, it may be a reflection of him, and he unquestionably was its visionary who was ultimately responsible for so many of its great products, and its remarkable success. But Apple is not Steve Jobs, nor vice-versa.

Steve Jobs is dead. He doesn't need to do another day's work as your puppet pundit. Let the man rest.




Even worse is the impression that Steve Jobs had a singular vision which guided him, or a kind of rigid philosophical template that he used in life, and that we can use to determine "what he would have thought."

He contradicted himself all the time, and would say things simply to serve the interests of the moment. In 2007, he famously told developers to create web apps instead of developing native apps for the iPhone, only to later try to ban iOS apps built with Adobe AIR specifically because they don't use native Obj-C code (even though they often do!).

Apple's "Human Interface Guidelines" was the gold standard for UI design philosophy for years, heralded by Jobs as smarter than its competitors' unfocused UI, that is, until Jobs wanted his notepad app to look like an actual notepad, and wanted OSX to have textures that looked like the candy-blue iMac or the brushed steel Mac Pro, leading to a bizarre clusterfuck of interface styles that continues today (it wasn't until Lion that those iMac-inspired blue plastic buttons were finally changed).

Jobs sharply criticized Windows' use of maximized windows, only to tout "fullscreen" mode in Lion as a unique innovation. He demanded that all third-party apps adhere to the design standards of the OS they run on, only to ignore those deeply-held beliefs when porting Apple software for Windows (iTunes, Quicktime, Safari, etc.).

Jobs argued publicly that web video never be displayed using a plug-in like Flash, while Apple *still* makes you download its ancient Quicktime plug-in to watch the newest film trailers.

Keeping on the Adobe train, Jobs admonished Adobe as lazy for not re-writing Photoshop using OSX's Cocoa 64-bit API sooner than it did, when almost none of Apple's own software used it at the time (iTunes *still* doesn't use it for the latest versions on Snow Leopard).

Everything he ever said was to serve whatever Apple's market strategy was at the time that he said it, and he never *really* meant much of any of it. He had general preferences and a style, no doubt, but nothing he ever said in his keynotes or other appearances should be interpreted as being anything more than pitches in his capacity as company spokesman.

He was against some of the Apple's most successful endeavors, like the App Store (now responsible for a huge part of Apple's revenue), and was personally invested in some of Apple's biggest flops, like Ping and the buttonless iPod Shuffle.

The only thing that made him truly different from other successful CEOs was his cult of personality.