Steve Jobs and the digital divide

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I just finished reading the authorized biography of Steve Job by Walter Isaacson. This is a fascinating account not only of the company, Apple, and its products, but also of a complex man. In the words of his colleagues, Jobs was both a hero and a shithead. His life is a modern version of Robert Stevenson’s Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde, and I would like to believe that towards the end of his life he was more like Dr Jekyl – the good guy and hero.

But I am not writing here about Jobs the man but what he stood for in the digital world.

I am a recent convert to the Mac world. I adore gadgets and I fell in love with the iPad. I was an early purchaser of iPad1, which I gave away as soon as the iPad2 came out. I am now on my iPad3. I downloaded lots of apps, music, videos, films from the iTunes store. I stopped buying printed books and magazines – if they are not digitized I don’t read them. To ensure seamless end-to-end experience, I went on to buy an iPhone (while still keeping my much loved Blackberry phone for emails on the go) and switched from a life-long user of Windows enabled laptops to a MacBook Air.

The revolutionary Jobs

Reading Jobs’ biography made me realize how much he had done to revolutionize our world. Apple transformed the music and media industries, enabled a seamless and fun experience for users, and became in the process one of the most valuable companies in the world. Jobs was greatly influenced by Zen and its elegant simplicity is reflected in the design of the devices. For example, the iPad is so simple and intuitive that even young children could use it to play games and to learn. In addition, Pixar, another company he founded (now part of Disney), has given us delightful experience in a new genre of “cartoon” films such as Toy Story.

The high level of integration and simplicity was a quest for “perfection” that Jobs set for himself and Apple. To succeed in the quest, Apple must have an end-to-end control of the whole process – hardware, software and content. In fact, to make its devices unique, Apple even has to control the supply chain of raw materials e.g. special aluminum for the iPad case. In other words, to succeed in this quest and to allow for premium pricing, Apple has to be a “closed system” where every aspect has to be tightly controlled and managed.

Thus Jobs stood at the extreme end on one side of the most fundamental divide in the digital world – open versus closed. On the other side of the digital divide are e.g. Microsoft and Google that license widely their Windows and Androids software respectively; and the open-source Linux, which probably stands at the other extreme end.

This led me to think about my life and the choices I have made in regard to an open versus closed system.  I have gone out of my way not to choose a closed system where I would have tighter control over various aspects of my life, and to intentionally choose an open system that is fluid. For me it is more fun to treat life as an adventure and go with the flow.

I want to thank Jobs for being who he was, for his vision, and for making Apple a closed system so that I, and millions others, could have this delightful experience. Bless you, Steve Jobs.
 

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