Steve Jobs – colossus or tyrant?

Hands up all of you who have one of the following: iPod, iPad, Mac computer, iPhone. Keep those hands up while I count how many of the rest of you have wished you had one?

I see a sea of hands. Millions of you have one of these devices ( 47million iPhones were sold in the first three months of last year and almost 23 million iPads).  Not bad for a company whose former CEO John Sculley once said that there was no future in computers for ordinary punters like you and me.

I’m one of the millions who’s helped Apple become a technology powerhouse. I’m writing this on my Apple MacBook Pro laptop. An Apple iPad is by my side, quietly downloading some e-versions of magazines as a result of a new service offered by our library system. Earlier on today, an hour’s session with the ironing board was made more palatable because I could plug in my iPod to catch up on some podcasts. Across the hallway comes the sound of music from the iPod sitting in the docking station next to my husband’s iMac workstation, helping him  meet a tight deadline from a client.

I tell you all this not because I am getting paid by Apple to promote their products or to show off about how much technology we have in our house.

The point is really to illustrate how much Apple and its products have become a way of life, made possible by the vision of one man — Steve Jobs  — whose authorized biography I have been listening to over the last few weeks on my commute to work.

I already knew some of the basic info about the extraordinary story that saw him ousted from Apple, the company he founded, only to buy it back again when it was on its knees 12 years later and turn around its fortunes with a series of breakthrough innovations.  On his death in 2011, President Obama  called him a visionary who “transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.”

Walter Isaacson’s biography presents a very different picture however; a portrait of a man who would score zero for inter-personal and people management skills. Present your latest great idea to him and he would either dismiss it as ‘shit’ or get so enthused he’d want to control every aspect of it. This is a man who having insisted the only university he would attend was the liberal, but ultra expensive Reed College in Oregon, (causing his parents to use their life savings to fund his education) dropped out within the first year in protest at having to attend lectures. He was also a man who in his twenties believed so strongly in the power of a strict vegetarian diet that he didn’t feel any need to shower/bath regularly.

It’s a fascinating story and Isaacson does a great job of capturing the tension and drama of the internal machinations that led to his departure from Apple.

I’ve reached the point where his next passion; for animation, took the small and almost unknown Pixar company to a series of box office successes with Walt Disney and made Jobs a billionaire even without any interests at Apple.

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