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The Disorderly March V

October 5, 2010

I am not a fan of Steve Jobs.  (Full disclosure – in my day job, I work for a vendor with contracts at Microsoft.)  I am not a fan of his closed architecture, his proprietary music format, his seemingly personal vendetta against Adobe, his iron-fisted control of the “app store,” but most of all I loathe the heavy-handed censorship that has led Apple’s “App Store” to black out comics with gay kissing (heterosexual fornication in app store comics having previously passed the bluenose test) and, in a dumbfounding instance of tone-deafness, to censor a graphic novel version of James Joyce’s Ulysses – the novel that is the most notorious test case of censorship laws in the history of the United States.  Both bans were reversed after lots of bad publicity, but the point is that when you create a climate of censorship, and hire people to work as censors, they are going to do their job to keep their job, even if that means finding something to censor, so expect more of the same in the future.

That said:  Steve Jobs has not taken the Orderly March to his current success.  I enjoyed this article in the Sunday New York Times, in which the author suggested that had Jobs not been fired from/quit Apple the first time, he’d have been unable to lead it to the undeniable success it enjoys now.  Jobs’ catastrophic failure at NeXT computers was, in many ways, the result of a tone-deaf, obsessive-compulsive management style.  Jobs refused to listen to managers who told him that a $10,000 personal computer wasn’t going to fly, and 7 of 9 vice presidents were fired or quit the company in a year’s time.

In this period, Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. Almost every aspect of the machine — including the finish on interior screws — was his domain. The interior furnishings of Next’s offices, a stunning design showplace, were Mr. Jobs’s concern, too. While the company’s strategy begged to be re-examined, Mr. Jobs attended to other matters. I spoke with many current and former Next employees for my 1993 book, “Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing.” According to one of them, while a delegation of visiting Businessland executives [a retailer who might have carried the NeXT, but didn’t] waited on the sidewalk, Mr. Jobs spent 20 minutes directing the landscaping crew on the exact placement of the sprinkler heads.

On his return to Apple, though Jobs still retains a Dear Leader-level of control over products,

One of the unremarked aspects of Apple’s recent story is the stability of the executive team — no curb filled with dumped managers…It took 12 dispiriting years, much bruising, and perspective gained from exile. If he had instead stayed at Apple, the transformation of Apple Computer into today’s far larger Apple Inc. might never have happened.

There’s a “companion” piece of sorts in the Sunday Business section, on Mark Zuckerberg’s relationship with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.  I saw “The Social Network” yesterday (being antisocial enough myself to want to go on a Monday afternoon so as not to have to deal with a crowd – and to get a good seat with plenty of legroom), and it’s a really good movie.  NDAs will prevent any of us knowing “the real story” for some years to come, but I like the approach taken in (I think) the Times’ Arts section (I can’t find it right now), in which a writer talks about “Mark,” the character in the movie, and “Zuckerberg,” the actual person.  “Mark” may be colder and more autistic than “Zuckerberg,” but it’s hard to imagine that you get to be the world’s youngest billionaire without some emotionless, ruthless qualities and actions.  (Completely irrelevant aside – I am now totally in love with Andrew Garfield, who plays “Mark’s” best – only – friend, whom he betrays for what the end titles call “an undisclosed sum.”)  Sandberg is the soul of discretion in the interview, but, “known for her interpersonal skills as much as for her sharp intellect,” the interview may do more to humanize Zuckerberg than any $100 million donation could do (many a tyrannical plutocrat has endowed a noble endeavor):

At a technology conference this summer, for instance, Mr. Zuckerberg flopped during an onstage interview. He gave rambling answers to questions about Facebook’s privacy policies, became visibly nervous and started sweating profusely. After the interview, Ms. Sandberg encouraged him not to beat himself up over it, but to focus on parts of the interview that went well so he could do better next time, according to people briefed on their interaction who didn’t want to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Zuckerberg, the real person, can be as tone deaf to privacy concerns as Jobs is to the idea of free speech – those with little to hide, or people to fear from, in their past often fail to see that many of the rest of us have led messier, more complicated lives, lives which we don’t want to relive or share, lives in which we don’t want to be “found” by people we’ve worked hard to escape or leave behind.  It’s also strange to see “Mark” so violently resist advertising on Facebook, because it’s so clearly “not cool” when “Zuckerberg” cavalierly introduced Beacon and gutted user privacy, offering up FB’s entire user base as fresh red meat to predatory advertisers. 

I have a FB page, because a friend of mine moved out of town and made me do it, but I haven’t been on in many moons, other than to reset my privacy settings stronger each time they’re defaulted to weaker.  I don’t understand the attraction, especially after a person I hoped never, ever to hear from again found me easily on FB.  I don’t understand the compulsion to collect more “friends,” or the way that people you haven’t seen or heard from since high school suddenly want to “Friend” you even though you have nothing in common.  I don’t understand why someone who’d owed me money for years decided to send me a FB message (which I nearly missed and got a month later because I’d only logged on to see the above friend’s dog pix) instead of an email when she had the money for me – as if FB was the best possible means of reaching me because everybody’s on FB all the time, right?  I’m not FB’s target audience – I’m the guy with 2 or 3 close friends and very few acquaintances, and I think, to my career detriment, that “networking” is bullshit – that acting as if you are just so glad to meet and greet everyone you can because they may be of use to you someday is a little sociopathic. 


One Comment leave one →
  1. elisapiper permalink
    October 11, 2010 10:28 am

    agree the privacy thing on Facebook totally sux … interested to see where it goes – I think more folks are bailing.

    hope it wasn’t me you never wanted to ever hear from again?

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