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Biting Into A Rotten Apple

by Alana Steinhardt

As we wind down for the holidays, The Inclusive will feature the best pieces from 2011. This gives you an opportunity to read some pieces you might not have otherwise seen, and it allows our staff to, y'know, hang out for a bit.

This piece was originally published October 13th. In the wake of Steve Jobs death, contributor Alana Steinhardt noticed that we were busy building a deity and not taking an honest look at a man who was flawed. In some ways, quite flawed. It's an honest and refreshing look, especially for someone who's writing this on his MacBook Pro surrounded by an iPhone and iPad (/humblebrag?).

The passing of Steve Jobs last week left masses of people around the world grappling with how to feel about the controversial CEO’s death. For some, the response to this tragedy was obvious: mourn the revolutionary genius. Create shrines. Hold vigils. Let the simulated lighter on your iPhone screen glow. Reminisce about your first iPod on Facebook. For others, like me, the reaction was a bit more complicated.

I’m not going to bore you by rehashing the Gawker articles discussing the mealier side of the Apple, as I am sure most of you have already read them. This is my own personal explanation of why I will not be joining Apple’s fanclub any time soon.

On Wednesday, October 5th, I arose from a nap on the couch to my brother making dinner in the kitchen. “Hey, while you were asleep, Steve Jobs died,” he shouted over the stove. To which I replied, “Huh. Well that’s not surprising. What are you making?” I did not feel anything.

The feelings came later (more on that in a moment). The death of a brilliant mind like Mr. Jobs’ is noteworthy, yes, and sad, too, because every death is sad — but should we have been surprised by it? I mean, it is not like the man was hit by a car walking across the street, or had a massive coronary. Only weeks earlier, Mr. Jobs stepped down as CEO of the company he created, then helped resurrect to the forefront of technology innovation.

He had terminal cancer. Do you really think he would have voluntarily given up his title if he wasn’t in dire medical straits? Really? Back in August, when Mr. Jobs stepped down, I commented to my father that Mr. Jobs’ fight against cancer must have finally become unwinnable. He had such a strong, domineering public personality, the only way I could envision Mr. Jobs handing off his precious company was if someone pried it from his cold, dead fingers. Momento mori, kids. Death comes to us all, even the rich and brilliant.

In the days following Mr. Jobs’ death, I tried to stay off social media. Full disclosure, I’m a lifelong “PC” (Damn you, Apple ad campaign!), and I knew the mourners were out there. I wanted to keep a respectful distance between me and the worshippers at the temple of “Mac,” because I knew my qualms with the company would not fall on welcome ears (eyes?). The tipping point came when several acquaintances of mine climbed on the social media soapbox to criticize those of us who expressed our valid emotions of ambivalence about Mr. Jobs’ passing. They called foul on us for “belittling” or “disrespecting” the dead.

No, I think not. Calling a person out for questionable business ethics is not disrespectful; the dead are not exempt from critique.

Which brings me to why “I’m a PC” in the first place: my upbringing. My father received a college degree in computer engineering back in the 1970s, when computers were still new and gigantic. He was hired into what we now know as a “PC” company right out of school, and has only worked for one other company (also PC) in his nearly thirty-five-year career. Bottom line: PC sales put food on the table, and Apple was the competitor and therefore the enemy. So I was biased from the beginning. (Note to Apple-fanatics everywhere: there are a lot of us in this PC family, so just back off, okay?)

Furthermore, I grew up in a town that did not have a lot of money, so in fifth grade, when we moved to a town with honest-to-goodness computer labs, I was pretty excited. On the tour of my new school, the host sang the praises of the technology offerings.

The conversation went something like this (remember, this is the mid-1990s, and I am eleven-years-old):

Host: We have two PC labs and a Mac lab.

Me: What’s a PC lab?

Host: Personal computers.

Me: Aren’t Macs personal computers? We’re people and we use them.

Host: Well, I suppose, but the PCs run Windows. Macs are Macs.

Me: So some personal computers are personal computers, and the others are Macs?

Host: (staring blankly) Um.

I remain impressed how Apple pulled that off — their computers were Macs; something different in a sea of boring old regular computers. I will also always kind of hate them for that.

Several years later, when my twin sister dated a guy in high school whose dad worked for Apple, we joked that it was like the Montagues and the Capulets and that the relationship was doomed. I digress.

Still, none of this is why I truly dislike Apple.

I do not respect the Steve Jobs-helmed Apple because:

And, lastly, please, just stop giving credit to Mr. Jobs for his revolutionary design aesthetic. He was not the design guy. This guy is. I’m also willing to bet a crackerjack team of engineers designed the products with and without Mr. Jobs, and that a clever ad team came up with that snappy “I’m a Mac” campaign. No man is an island, especially not in a company as large and successful as Apple.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: I did not personally know Steve Jobs. Not many people did, considering his fame and the reach of his creations. He was an extremely private man, and I respect that. I do not know if he was a loving family man. I never saw him scream at a subordinate. I never even watched him announce a new product. Do I own an Apple product? Yes, I was gifted an iPod in 2003, and when it died right on schedule in 2006, I received another as a gift. Although I have never purchased an Apple product (because I do not like the way they work), I do recognize their importance in the grand scheme of technological advancement.

I also know, however, that I could never bow down at the altar of a man who was that wealthy and powerful and did not use that wealth and power for charitable causes or to set an example of civil behavior and respect toward other people. Maybe he donated anonymously, maybe he gave advice to young up-and-comers — we may never know. We do, however, know the state of the production plants in China, and that people feared this man in the workplace. Personal allegiances and annoyance with instituted planned-obsolescence of products aside, that’s enough to take the shine off the Apple for me.

Alana Steinhardt is the librarian at a public elementary school outside Boston, where she gets to read as many picture books as she wants. In her free time, Alana enjoys curling (the sport), knitting things, wearing sensible shoes, and singing the occasional aria.