Derrick Bell, Steve Jobs and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.(Photo: David Shankbone/Wikicommons, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, REUTERS/Tami Chappell/)
By now you’ve heard that Steve Jobs is dead. The founder and main creative thrust behind Apple computers succumbed to pancreatic cancer yesterday at the age of 56, and the world is now reeling. Practically everyone in Silicon Valley has released their outpourings of grief, and even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Obama have sent their condolences. Jobs was an important man, and far be it from us to take away any of that. But perhaps it’s time for some perspective.
If you’ve been on Twitter or Facebook in the last 24 hours, you’ve probably seen them — the tweets and status updates in which people mourn Jobs, a billionaire electronics manufacturer most of them didn’t know. Most of the obituaries for Jobs have been hagiographies themselves, highly dramatic expressions of anguish and praise. It all started to be a bit much, which is why a piece today from Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan, “Steve Jobs Was Not God,” felt so important. The entire OP-ED itself is good, but this passage felt especially right:
“Steve Jobs was great at what he did. … He made good computers, he made good phones, he made good music players. He sold them well. He got obscenely rich. He enabled an entire generation of techie design fetishists to walk around with more attractive gadgets. He did not meaningfully reduce poverty, or make life-saving scientific discoveries, or end wars or heal the sick or befriend the friendless. Which is fine — most of us don't. But most of us don't provoke such cult-like lachrymosity when we pass on. When even the journalists tasked with covering you and your company are reduced to pie-eyed fans apologizing for discomforting your insanely powerful multibillion-dollar corporation in some minor way, some perspective has been lost.”
It may seem a bit crude to disparage a man so soon after he passed, until you realize that Nolan isn’t disparaging Jobs at all. Rather, he’s simply saying that the idolatry going on in the wake of Jobs’ death has ballooned to the point of insanity and insincerity. If people really sit back and think about it, was Jobs that heroic to them? Was he that important to their life? Was he really a man they want to be shedding tears over?
It’s a strange coincidence that noted race scholar Derrick Bell and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights legend who Martin Luther King Jr. praised as “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South,” passed on the same day as Jobs. Though all three died within hours of each other, it was Jobs whose name rang out more often throughout Twitter, Facebook and news outlets around the world. Shuttlesworth suffered beatings, stabbings, and bombings in order to make America a better place for Black people. And Bell resigned from quite prestigious academic positions rather than compromise his beliefs. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be sad about Jobs’ passing. But if you’ve wept for the Apple king via Twitter or your blog and have yet to mention Shuttlesworth at all, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself which man really changed your world the most.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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