Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Jobs & the Third Eye

Anyone who questions the value of long form magazine journalism should read Frank Rich's article in the October New York magazine. Rich, who knows as much as anyone about Theatrics, Politics, and the Big Lie, has put his finger on the historical and psychological implications of the so-called class warfare championed by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

He touched on the apparent paradox of OWS participants constructing  memorials for Steve Jobs and even offering a moment of silence. After all, wasn't Jobs one of the 1% monied crowd who hadn't even joined Gates and Buffett in giving something back to the country that made him wealthy.

Understandably, our 24/7 news cycle necessitates more attention to the shadow side of the man within days if not hours of the biography's publication. The narrative goes something like this: sure the man was a genius but aren't Apple products produced in factories in Southern China where health and labor violations are well-known. And don't most of the Apple jobs remain in China? 

Having visited more electronics factories in Southern China than I care to remember, I understand this narrative. But the storyline loses some power when we acknowledge that a lot components for tablets, ereaders and smartphones are manufactured in the same region of China. This doesn't take away the brown cloud of manufacturing gloom that hangs over this region of China. It just deflates the issue, at least for the time being. Digital still has footprints.

Biographer Walter Isaacson suggested on Good Morning America this week that Jobs' life struggle was between the poet and the geek, and this dialectic colored all his decisions whether imagining the iPad or looking for alternatives to treating pancreatic cancer. Technology has come a long way from William Blake's "mind forged manacles," at least outside the factory zone.  

This narrative is not necessarily a linear extension of struggles we find in Tracy Kidder's marvelous book, The Soul of the New Machine, in which Data General attempts to bring microcomputers to market in record time. The battle cry is: "There's so much Goddamn money to be made" although the skunkworks drama foreshadows later Silicon Valley triumphs.  Still, the Dinosaurs seem to be alive and well in any age. The poet, no-so-much.

Now back to the Jobs' paradox. Why did the OWS protestors differentiate between Steve Jobs and the objects of their wrath. Rich refers to Regis McKeena, a Silicon Valley marketing executive, to explain Jobs genius which was "to strip away the excess layers of business, design, and innovation until only the simple elegant reality remains".

Conversely, Wall Street did exactly the opposite piling on layer after layer of business innovation until reality is distorted and obscured. In other words the derivatives market that was the primary reason for the financial collapse.

William Blake spoke of a Three-Fold Vision and seeing with the Third Eye.

Jobs had one.

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