Thursday, October 6, 2011

Of greatness and the iPad

Steve Jobs, the chairman and former CEO of Apple Inc. is dead. He passed away yesterday. He was fifty six, and had been suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer.

Today, people are mourning worldwide over his untimely death. Many people (teenagers like me, and people of my parents’ age as well) who were not even sure about who Steve Jobs was till yesterday are talking about how much they loved him, and what a ‘great’ man he was, and how he had ‘changed the world forever’ with his contributions.

Let us see, Steve Jobs commercialized the PC, was the creator of the first computer animated movie (Toy Story), of the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad,  and other such gadgets. These were his ‘world-changing contributions’. These are the works that would make people remember him ‘forever’. The entire world is in tears today at his death. One of the greatest men of the 20th-21st century has left us yesterday.

With all due respect to Mr. Jobs, I really cannot see what made him the ‘great’ man that people all over the world are mourning today. Okay, he invented the iPod, the iPhone, computer animated movies. So what? Is it really animated movies that define the cinema industry? I think not. Is living really impossible without an iPod or a smart phone? Look around you, and you will get the answer. So what exactly is this hype about?

iPods and smart phones are essentially playthings. They are not life saving gadgets, they do not contribute substantially to one’s character building process, they do not give us happiness in the true sense of the word (a century ago no one had heard about an iPod or a cell phone, and I am sure that people of the time did not all die of either boredom or sadness without them). So what do these gadgets really do? They are most used by halfwit teenagers who are biologically incapable of doing anything of a much higher intellectual level than pressing buttons. But just because these gadgets offer such people something to do in their idle hours, can these gadgets be tagged as ‘world changing’?

Okay, let me try and imagine a world that has not heard of computer animation and smart phones and iPads. What would it be like? Animation would still be there. Only the process would be more strenuous and require more direct human effort, that is, someone would have to draw the scenes with one’s own hands. Without Apple Inc to make iPads and iPods, many overworked and under-loved fathers would be saved from their children’s constant pestering to buy them the latest gadget that Apple has launched. With no iPods, fewer people would die on the roads and the railway tracks from having been too preoccupied with the music from their headphones to have heard the honking of the cars and the trains. Young adults who have just started earning a living would be less prone to spending the greater part of their income on the latest version of the iPad instead of on pressing family needs. Teenagers who think the world of themselves would feel slightly less compulsion to display how ‘cool’ and ‘in’ they are by flaunting their latest Apple gadgets. Students would employ their time better studying and waste a little less time playing on their smart phones with their numerous ‘apps’. In a nutshell, slightly less time and money would be wasted in everyone’s life. Of course, my generation has an inborn talent for finding out things that are completely worthless, but that can be used for ‘time-pass’, so there would have been other ingeniously devised gadgets that help you to waste time. But we can still hope that without so many of these ‘i-’ gadgets, we might have found some more people engaged in doing more useful things. Sports, dance, music, painting and reading, for instance...

I have an Apple iPod myself, presented to me a couple of years ago, but I can also say that owning it has not made any significant difference in my life. The cell phone I own also has many modern ‘apps’ and I use hardly one or two of them, but I get on very well indeed without utilizing all the ‘smartness’ of this ‘smart’ phone. Before I owned the iPod or the cell phone, I listened to music all right. I had the old Sony Walkman, and the older music player, and the sound they produced was good enough for me. Someone on Facebook seems to have said ‘we are what we are’ because of Steve Jobs. Now I have nothing against Mr. Jobs, but in no way can I say that either he or the gadgets he invented have contributed even 0.00001% in making me what I am today, or indeed, what my iPod-owning friends are today.

As for his being called a ‘great man’, I wonder. Even when I was much littler than I am now, I have heard much talk about great people in my family. My parents do not agree over everything, but when it comes to calling a person ‘great’, I cannot remember having ever seen them with different opinions. Afterwards, since I started developing my own mind, and started looking at the world with my own eyes, I drew my own conclusions. When I think of great people, names like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Chanakya and Albus Dumbledore come to my mind. But then, I must remember that I live in a world where everything and everyone can become ‘great’. Michael Jackson was voted the greatest entertainer of all time, and Princess Diana was voted the greatest British personality over Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill. Ah well…  

P.S. 24th October: I was sent this link by an anonymous commentator. I would appreciate it if people tell me their views on this article. I do not want to add any comment of my own here right now. And if Mr./Ms Anonymous is reading this, I'm sure you have a pleasant enough name, so you might as well use it while commenting on my blog. Otherwise, I will not publish your comments. Sorry!


Shilpi said...


I've been wondering and writing and wondering what I can possibly add or say in response to your essay here where you've hammered the nail nice and very, very hard.

You've certainly made me laugh with that second paragraph of yours and in some other parts too (although it's not unmixed laughter). You also helped me 'see' what was happening in India....

You're right of course. I think I'd much rather gawk than call Steve Jobs great. He was a very clever businessman and he made those 'playthings' look very good but apart from that I can't think of any reason why anybody who didn't know him personally would want to suddenly call him great. When I read the bit about him having changed the world I started wondering whether I'd missed something incredible he'd done since leaving Apple.

You're absolutely right in saying that things can never define a person. I don't even quite get how owning 'things' make so many people feel better as a person.

There was nothing funny about what you say about overworked and under-loved fathers but it brings to mind a stupid boy who had been whining once about some stupid exams and how his father was out of work and was still paying for cable TV and internet....I was much too kind to him at that point but I was more than horrified that he was sitting on his ass while merrily spending time on the net and with cable television while complaining about some dumb exams.

I really can't see what I can add to this post of yours...apart from saying I too can't see how Jobs changed anything, and I thought about it long and hard...maybe I'll say this much that he changed in how music started being stored...that's the most I can say - if indeed iPods were the first gadgets that led music to being stored in (what I learnt very late) MP3 format (but honestly, I don't know whether that was the case and even that wouldn't make me call him great for heaven's sake!).

Much like you I don't think I'd have been any different a person if an iPod hadn't been gifted to me and I remember hollering about 'why would anybody need an iPod?!' somewhat to the alarm of a still good friend who presented me with the same a day later (he'd already gotten it for me), and I was irked the day the iPhone was released and remember telling my students about the same (in relation to something we were covering in class that day), and quoting the Dalai Lama's words (one of the few quotes that linger in my head).

I'll say that I was taken aback when I saw what an iPhone did. Jump around and swirl and all that (and I remember some folks saying some days later, 'I wish I could make phone-calls on it'!!) and I remember wondering how it was possible that folks had with dedication been able to do all that with technology and yet we weren't any wiser or kinder as civilizations...

I'll end on this note otherwise I'll keep rambling. You can't blame me this time. Your essay sent off lots of thoughts...and that's a good thing, right? As for the 'great' bit, the only thing I can say is that the older I grow the shorter that list becomes in my head! I looked up some lists after reading your essay and in one of them Diana came third in list (of top 100 Britons!) and John Lennon came 9th....and somewhere in between was Newton, and even Darwin on that list came after Diana!

I'm glad though that the BBC from the third day didn't think it necessary to carry news on Jobs on its front page.

I'm very, very glad you wrote this. Quite apart from everything else it got me thinking - so thank you. Keep writing, and more often, please. I really do wait for your essays/posts.


Nishant Kamath said...

Hi Pupu,

Very well written article. I would like some people here to read this article. All the comments I have been seeing on facebook and the news about Jobs being one of the greatest innovators ever, and about the three apples that changed the world and stuff, make me sick. He was a very astute businessman and had the ability to advertise his products really well. But beyond that I don't see how he or his products could have changed the world except maybe make dumb people even dumber by deciding things for them (like creating 'apps' that are so 'cool' and 'make life so much easier, omg', telling them that they *need* to buy such and such thing and subscribe to such and such features and what not). In fact I heard that he was snooty enough to say in one of his speeches something to the effect of 'I'll tell you what to think'. Probably he was quite right in thinking so.

And this goes beyond the 'i' products. Advertisements prey on people's paranoia or that they need to buy a certain thing to be cooler or that life becomes a cake-walk if they buy a mop of 'brand X'. I am sorry for probably going off-topic but this crazy consumerism really makes me mad with anger.

Coming back to cell-phones and stuff, I keep telling people here that a 'smart-phone' is for stupid people and that's why I own a stupid-phone so that it doesn't have a hold over my life. One day one of our house-mates invited a female friend of his for dinner and at the table, both of them were busy pressing buttons on their smart-phones chatting with someone remotely and not chatting with each other over dinner like people in a different era used to.

Anyway, let's see how long this fever lasts. I'm sorry if all of this sounded like a rant but this had been building up and if I said all of this to people here, I'd probably become an outcast!

Again, a nice article and I'll try to convince some of the more rational people here to read it.


Urbi Chatterjee said...

Dear Nishantda,

Thank you for your comment. I agree with you about smart phones being for stupid people. In fact, my personal view is that even if you weren't too stupid when you bought one of those phones, using it continuously will make you stupid in a couple of months or so.

And as for that dinner incident, a very common sight here is a girl and a boy sitting next to each other on a culvert, too busy messaging frantically on the phone to some other person to notice each other! I'm sure you yourself have seen this plenty of times.


Nishant Kamath said...

Hi Pupu,

Agree with you on the first point. That's precisely the reason I don't use my GPS. I memorise the map before I set out and use the GPS only if I am completely and hopelessly lost.

There might be some smoke behind all the fire. Maybe Apple products are really good, but the additional price one has to pay to get the small improvement is just out of proportions and being Sir's student and having listened to him and talked to him, I think I sub-consciously made the decision not to buy any of the 'i's' just because so many others have these gadgets as part of their lives. The company had 'Think Different' as their tag-line a decade ago. What do all the Apple fans do? Buy one of the 'i's' or Macbook Pro or Air or Water and convince others to use the same apps they're using. Conformity! Define irony.

I am glad that you didn't buy one yourself.


Debarshi said...

A very well-written post that seeks to address the heart of the entire issue--What is 'greatness'? Is it the ability to make billions,is it the ability to make a worthwhile difference,or is it the ability to utilize the media to one's greatest advantage?Will any of the people remember 'Steve Jobs'?or will they remember him as the CEO of Apple Inc.? Makes one wonder...

But let us focus beyond his reported success..and focus upon his courage..the courage to dream up an idea,and to follow it through to the very end...It is the spirit of the story that counts,and not the nature of the story,isn't it?...

Nicely written & a pleasure to read.I am not sure whether you will recognize me...I am Sir's student,Debarshi Saha...


Suvro Chatterjee said...

I hope you read Debarshi's musing on what is 'greatness' before visiting that very silly starry-eyed article in the link, Pupu. The man who wrote it was a fool at best and a paid publicity agent for Apple Inc at worst, I hope you had no problem in figuring that out for yourself. Indeed, some of the comment writers on that blog have quite adequately demolished the writer's tall claims on behalf of Steve Jobs. We shall not go into a serious discussion about what greatness is supposed to mean here - the subject does not deserve solemn treatment. Let us merely remember that hundreds of millions of us have managed to live very well indeed without using any of Apple's products, or even much cheaper clones! And also, that Apple users simply can't swallow the inconvenient fact that there are at least ten times as many people who use Windows based computers than Macs. That should put paid to all the silly claims about the supposed 'superiority' of Apple products. Finally, I hope I have taught you enough about art to know that it is sacrilege to use the term in connection with things as trivial as PCs and cellphones...

Rashmi Datta said...

Hello Urbi,
It is a pleasure to read your blogpost.
The way people are mourning over Steve Jobs’ death and glorifying his ‘contribution to the society’ really forces one to wonder what the world has come to and how few sane people are left here.

From what I have read about him, Steve Jobs was a successful and rich businessman. He commercialized computers and somehow got lucky in convincing people that they couldn’t do without certain kinds of overpriced and unnecessary ’smart’ toys. This ‘great’ person however never seemed to have a knack towards charity.

I do respect his courage to endure pain and difficulties in life but there are so many other unsung heroes who have shown exceptional courage in life. One gets to read about many such people in Reader’s Digest every month. Very few people remember them may be because they aren’t as rich as Steve Jobs.

Saying that he revolutionized the world with his innovations (be it the MacBook, the i-products, the MP3 technology or computer animation) is as Suvro Sir has termed ‘glorifying trifles’ for the simple reason that they have made no contribution in making my life more enriched than it already is. His innovations are neither lifesaving (like the pacemaker or CPR or the automatic defibrillator) nor inspiring or breathtaking (like Tagore’s work).

You have described very appropriately what good the absence of the i-products would have done to the world. I see so many foolish working people around me who flaunt their credit cards and cellphones but have a very meager amount in their bank account. I also know children of your age owning these smart toys, who say they would invest their money in real estate as soon as they get their first salary! (And these kids do elementary subtraction and division with great difficulty)

I am surprised at how so many people have come to believe that everything from skill, talent, beauty to self-confidence, love and happiness can be bought at a nearby retail outlet or a shopping mall. Mindless consumerism, as Nishantda has aptly explained, is beyond comprehension and increasingly frustrating. Is it not sheer foolishness to think that a family cannot be together unless they own the latest car in town or use Microsoft Windows? And how in the world can a mobile phone make you honest?
It is a pity that there is so little love left in everyone’s life that they are compelled to call a car, a pen and a mobile phone their ‘friend’.

It feels very nice to have people with whom we can share our views. I am grateful you wrote this post.


Subhadip Dutta said...

Hi Pupu,

If I speak from a purely technical point of view, I will say that 'i'-products have nothing so unique in their technologies for which people are so ready to spend so much on an 'i'-product. Recently I heard that Apple is either going to create, or is in the process of creating a central storage in a cloud where one can store data from his/her 'i'-product. That data can be stored and accessed from anywhere in the world by anyone possessing an 'i'-product, of course, after proper authentication. But being involved in Information Security, I can see that incidents of hacking and critical data loss are going to become frequent and eminent in the near future. You can never be 100% secure, security ends at 99.99%.

Also, if MacIntosh is so good an operating system, why are all big IT companies using Windows desktops, why are the majority using Windows servers, Linux servers, AIX servers and Solaris servers?

I would like you to see my comment on Sir's post in the link I have also expressed some my views there about Steve Jobs, 'i'-products and the Mac OS.


Urbi Chatterjee said...

Dear Subhadip-da,

I do not quite follow all the technicalities about the central storage. But in a nutshell, I understand that this central storage is going to be one of those essentially non-important and to a great extent useless gadgets made by the company.

As you wrote in your comment on baba's post, these so called 'world-changing inventions' come nowhere near the importance of fire, wheels or boats. I would like to add that even when it comes to big and important discoveries and/or inventions of more recent times, by far the most important ones are the inventions of electricity, anesthesia, antibiotics, vaccinations and others of that ilk. It is funny how people seem to take these things for granted, and cry themselves hoarse praising 'i' gadgets and smart phones.


Navin said...

Hi Urbi,

Nice to read this post of yours. I congratulate you on being able to articulate your views quite lucidly and cogently. All the best for your efforts.

take care,

Shilpi said...

Pupu, the best argument against that stupid article link that the anonymous commentator sent you is your own essay right here!

I hadn't read that link before but I completely forgot to mention that those imbecilic articles on Jobs by Martin Wolf (and he is apparently some economist!) and others like him are the ones that get my goat. And it's that 'hint-hint'...somehow even though we may have never used any apple product, our life has been altered in some mysterious and unbelievable way by Steve Jobs?! And somehow if we have used any i-toy then of course we know our lives have changed! We have become different somehow?! What sort of hocus-pocus nonsense is that?

And it's not even as though these people are mindless 13 year-olds or illiterate people! Mindless they are, goes without saying. Just shows that age has nothing to do with maturity.

And I followed that article on the magazine 'Wired' on how Jobs apparently changed the world with his amazing products, and look at those 'world changing' products listed. Those same products which you've sharply and clearly and justifiably trashed.

And those things which Steve Jobs did not even create! He didn't even sit and make any of those toys. He hired people to make them - even that i-pod! So why exactly are people calling him an innovator and an extraordinary creator or some - heaven help me - artist or poet?!

Pupu, I had assumed that I would sound less angry if I waited awhile, and I'd thought I'd just write that first little paragraph but honestly those highly paid morons writing those gassing articles on the link provided apart from those other types of creatures that you've talked about here and your dad on his blog really make me see red.

Nonetheless, I can tell you that I had smiled widely when I read that article the first time round because I said, 'well, Pupu, who's not yet 15, has more than adequately responded to you and your asinine article, Mr. Wolf, and I'm glad about that!'

All this has made me think even more about Edison though...and his light-bulb. I had a rare power-cut this last week and I was musing about Edison for some moments in the dark...

Please keep writing. And do put up a post this month.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Pupu,

I trust I have taught you well not to be overawed if 'famous' people say daft things, but to realize at once that they are either motivated or daft, and therefore deserve to be ignored. Economics is my line, as you know, and I have known far more 'awesome' economists than Martin Wolf, and remained unfazed when they have said daft things; I also know that most economists know nothing anyway, and some very famous ones have even gone to jail for cheating people by pretending to know much more than they really did. As to just how shallow this Martin Wolf really is, find out from one of his own blogposts:

He doesn't even realize that to any sensible reader, his article is the best turnoff against smartphones. After this, I am NOT going to buy a Google Android phone, even if I was ever planning to get one!

As for whether one really needs such silly gadgets - unless one is dying to burn money and show off before pinheads - read this:

There are so many smart-ass advisors around these days that your generation desperately needs to know which people to listen to, and whom to ignore...