I’ve been a little troubled by some of my (Facebook) friends’ reactions to Steve Jobs’ death. I recognize that he was a great, accomplished man, and that he should be mourned. I do think he was a product genius. And in terms of life wisdom, his Stanford commencement speech is the best, most wise graduation speech I’ve ever heard. Furthermore, our family is fully on the Apple bandwagon. Counting stuff I’ve been given from work and old stuff we haven’t gotten rid of yet, our household has an iPod Shuffle, 2 iPhones, an iPad, a MacBook Air, a MacBook, a MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and Apple Extreme router. Borderline absurd. So I fully appreciate what he accomplished and produced, and I get that response, the appreciation.
What troubles me is that some people have gone beyond just appreciation to a sense of personal loss. Some of them expressed surprise at their own response, but that’s what they felt. And the reason it troubles me is because I think it reflects how much of a consumer society we are. To feel a sense of personal loss at Jobs’ passing can only happen if we identify so much with the stuff we have that losing the person who gave it to us makes us feel like we’re losing a part of ourselves. And I think that’s what it is. A lot of times, we identify ourselves by the things we have. We’re Mac people or PC people. iPhone or Android or Blackberry people. Minivan people. Homeowners. We define who we are, sometimes even our progress in life, by the things we have. But none of that really defines us, or at least it shouldn’t. It’s just stuff.
And losing someone who just gave us stuff, while sad, doesn’t make me feel personal loss. And I think that’s ultimately what Steve Jobs was – a guy who gave us stuff. He wasn’t personally warm or generous. As far as anyone knows, he didn’t give anything to charity. He was single-mindedly driven in the pursuit of a single goal – better products – and wildly successful at it. But it’s just stuff.
Not to say that stuff didn’t make a positive impact or that I don’t personally appreciate it. His accomplishments and wisdom should be recognized. But the sense of personal loss that some people have felt disturbs me a bit because of what I think it reflects about society. I talked about this with someone yesterday and they thought it was a stretch. Maybe. But I dunno. Our society seems to most deeply and personally mourn those public figures who give us stuff or entertain us. And that makes me a little sad.