Jobs and Occupations

In which the author: co-opts the passing of Steve Jobs as an excuse to score some cheap points about #OccupyWallStreet; borrows heavily from those more distinguished than he (including Steve Jobs); realises that he doesn’t know whether he’s talking about economics or politics; reminds the esteemed reader that if the two have become indistinguishable that’s not his fault. Nor that of Steve Jobs.

For those who haven’t heard, Steve Jobs has sadly passed away, aged just 56.

I don’t use Apple stuff really, ever since I canned my iPhone for an HTC, but I’m conscious that I’m probably somewhat indebted to Jobs for his role in maintaining such high standards and freedom of choice across the spectrum of consumer technology.

Without really knowing what I’m talking about, it seems to me that Jobs’ Apple successfully challenged as many potential monopolies as it threatened to create, and while his corporate self might have gone toe-to-toe with some of Apple’s opponents on the subject, I’m pretty sure in his heart of hearts he understood that competition was a cornerstone of innovation, and therefore industry.

As a pioneering maker-of-things Jobs can now reasonably expect to be borne aloft by the better angels of capitalism, with that of self-determination flying before them. Quotes of his have been bandied around the ether all day long, none more so than this one:

Your time on this earth is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

I’ve been posting a lot recently about the #OccupyWallStreet protest and the wider Occupy Together movement, and reading plenty. One extract that stuck in my mind from an early New York Times piece was this:

One day, a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Adam Sarzen, a decade or so older than many of the protesters, came to Zuccotti Park seemingly just to shake his head. “Look at these kids, sitting here with their Apple computers,” he said. “Apple, one of the biggest monopolies in the world. It trades at $400 a share. Do they even know that?”

Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. (Reuters reports that Apple isn’t all that popular in ‘Liberty Square’ anyway, with most of the protesters preferring RiM’s Blackberry: surely now the smartphone of choice for any self-respecting young upstart.)

Either way, what Mark Engler identifies as “the old canard that no one who uses an Apple computer can possibly say anything critical about capitalism” was yesterday usefully expanded upon by Douglas Rushkoff:

Yes, as so many journalists seem obligated to point out, kids are criticizing corporate America while tweeting through their iPhones. The simplistic critique is that if someone is upset about corporate excess, he is supposed to abandon all connection with any corporate product. Of course, the more nuanced approach to such tradeoffs would be to seek balance rather than ultimatums. Yes, there are things big corporations might do very well, like making iPhones. There are other things big corporations may not do so well, like structure mortgage derivatives. Might we be able to use corporations for what works, and get them out of doing what doesn’t?

Rushkoff’s argument resonates very strongly with me. As I’ve watched #OccupyWallStreet I’ve come to see myself as being ‘pro-Capitalism, anti-greed’. I believe that certain businesses – and types of business – are the scourge of economic prosperity, just as others provide its very backbone. I don’t know if that would stick in Zuccotti Park, but I’d be ready to put it out there. Sound’s like they’re a pretty open to new ideas.

This is, after all, a movement demonstrating steadfast belief in the values of innovation, industry and self-determination. A movement comprised of individuals choosing to live their own lives instead of someone else’s – precisely the reason they may not always speak with one voice.

A movement that simply would not exist, and may not ultimately survive, were it not for the occasional act of piracy. Like that of the Boston Tea Party: such overt criminality it would no doubt be roundly condemned were it to happen today, by precisely the same well-to-do namesakes who have hijacked its memory.

Steve had a thing or two to say about buccaneering too:

It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

[ UPDATE: A bit later ] Just saw the clip below. Not sure I’d have chosen that music – don’t think Steve would either – but apart from that it’s bang on: