I should probably be responding to General Conference, given the timing and what I’ve been reading recently. And I still plan to respond to a couple of Conference issues. But the many recent news stories about Jobs has got me thinking about that instead. As I’ve pondered Jobs I think there is an important distinction that we are missing.
I am not referring to politics or to the President’s Jobs bill. Instead, I’m thinking about former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who passed away on Wednesday.
Personally, I am a Mac guy. I started using the Apple Mac in 1987, when BYU’s off-campus newspaper, Student Review, moved to layout on the Mac using Pagemaker 1.0 on the library’s Mac SEs. Within a few years my wife and I purchased our first Mac, a SE/30. And before that my wife’s family owned an Apple II in the early 1980s. All told I think we’ve owned about a dozen Macs over the years. We’ve also had a number of ipods and other Apple products.
In addition, I’ve pushed for Macs at every job I’ve had — even though most of those jobs have been accounting jobs, which were traditionally the realm of IBM compatibles. I could be called a veteran of the Mac v. PC wars of the 1980s and 1990s—which somehow now seem silly and obsolete.
So, Steve Jobs has had quite an effect on my life. Like commentators in the news over the past couple of days, I’ve admired Jobs for his talents, and may have overlooked some of his faults. I do think that it is true that he literally changed our world.
One of the thinks I found fascinating about Apple was that in addition to salespersons, it also had evangelists—employees whose job it was to get the public excited about Apple’s products. Evangelists were supposed to show off Macs and other Apple products, educating the public about those products instead of selling them. Jobs, of course, was Apple’s chief evangelist. His highly-regarded presentations of new Apple products were like those of a preacher: entertaining and inspiring. People hear Jobs speak from his pulpit and wanted Apple products. Now that pulpit is empty.
But even with my admiration of Jobs and of Apple’s often stunning design coups, I think we must remember that these products, like all technology (as far as I can tell), are simply tools.
Tools are, of course, amoral. In general, they don’t promote a particular morality. In fact, they are used for immoral, amoral and moral purposes. Sure computers make things easier and life better. But they make immorality easier, just as they make morality easier and all those things that are neither moral or immoral easier. In fact, no one expects them to.
Of course, technology sometimes becomes the demon. That has happened with the Internet to some degree, just as it has for that older technology, the one invented by a Mormon farm boy who was inspired by the pattern he used to plow his fields. Like Philo Farnsworth, Jobs is, in the end, a maker of tools. Wonderful, extremely useful tools, but still, just tools.
I don’t say this to condemn Jobs, but to put his work in perspective. Since tools are generally amoral, they cannot be moral successes. They can be used to create moral successes, but they are not moral successes themselves.
So, as much as I admire Jobs, I think more important work could be done by improving morality, by making our society more Christlike. While good and important, the more important work lies in promoting the truth, preaching the good word and providing for the well being of mankind.