I’ve just watched Steve Jobs. Yes, the movie from 4 years ago depicting Jobs’ rise from the humble hanger-on of Wozniak’s demonstrably more innovative coattails to cultural entity that devoted most of his life to obfuscating the fact that he used to be just some fuckwad. My derision and special disdain for Steve Jobs and people like him aside, what truly struck me was the massive juxtaposition of the spirit of computing as it existed before Apple and Microsoft but post hysteria of chess-playing machines that might one day decide the trajectory of our nuclear arsenal and its current place as the fountainhead of our society and, indeed, the modern conception of capitalism in its entirety. Let’s be honest, we hardly go a day without hearing some half-cocked venture capitalist’s idea for a new app is going to change the way we look at X or how we live with Y.
It’s circa 1980. The Cold War is winding down, we’ve strode past the Cuban Missile Crisis. Reagan is a fuck but hasn’t been able to be much of one yet. Alien just came out last year and the first Star Wars a few years before that. In short, what a pretty alright time to be alive. By comparison, our current hellscape is truly just that. A hopeless march to climate death unless we can accomplish a conscious restructuring of human society that is utterly without compare in all of human history, that’s the current narrative. The narrative of the fabled age of Jobs and Gates and Wozniak, which, like it or not, is really the only mythological era we have in modern America, was one of boundless hope and optimism. There’s a reason why all our cultural products of our current day are busy harkening back to the early 80’s. Stranger Things, Ready Player One, the aforementioned Steve Jobs biopic, the new season of American Horror Story, reboots or long-awaited sequels to franchises like Star Wars, and the list goes on. I would venture to say that it was the last time anything felt new and not some derivation of something else. There’s no end of people who would challenge me on that. Who would claim the smartphone, wireless internet, self-driving vehicles as heralds of an era all their own. And those people would be wrong.
Innovation and optimism are now commodities. And commodities are derivations. They are what happens to inventions when the frontier is expurgated and now we may set about exploiting the discovery. Geography or technology, this is the spirit that drives on the great lumbering machine of capitalism. The fact that the computing power of a smartphone once lay in a machine that took up entire rooms is an amazing fact. An interesting tidbit. But no more. It’s a natural progression. It’s a commodity. It’s more people with more computers to get more money. Which, fine whatever. It’s a largely useless invention that satisfies an animal craving for “more, but faster this time”, but to each their own. What’s concerning is this is where we’ve ended up, so far from where we’ve started.
The heyday of personal computing, when these things were still being built in garages, a time that we nerds speak of with wonder and awe, was strongly infused with a democratic spirit of reclaiming computing technology from massive corporate giants like Hewlett-Packard and IBM, companies we must remember who have done more than any other to contribute to the slow destruction of the fabric of society. The latter went so far as to inveigle themselves with both the Nazis and the CIA. The whole spirit of the enterprise was putting into the hands of the have-not’s the ability to lift themselves up into a new technocratic utopia in which knowledge would serve the world. Bootstraps adjacency and naivete aside, it’s a far cry from the mythology that would take its place. The mythology of Jobs and of Gates, while Woz tinkered (richly) into obscurity.
These days, Apple and Microsoft are now engines of the economy. There are no greater patron saints in the corporate or tech worlds than Gates and Jobs, Jobs and Gates. Geniuses, misunderstood savants, messiahs to the unwashed masses who without computers were just apes. You can see the dividends this worship has paid in the yogababble of modern companies seeking to elevate the human consciousness by turning millennials into pod people in the name of sharing the vague camaraderie of a workspace. WeWork, on its face and on its own, is enough to make the argument that even the language of solidarity has been commodified before the altar of growth and consumerism. The idea of the concept of ‘We’ meaning anything to the ghouls who developed that company is laughable. But this is the logical endpoint of greed, not just corporate greed, but the kind enabled only by the cripplingly oppressive spirit of capitalism. It elevates failsons to gods and demands we worship them. And Steve Jobs was indeed a failson, whose only talent was elevating himself to corporate power through sheer force of will and despite a number of fuck-up’s. He had one golden goose on his side, though, the kind that enables failsons the world over to continue failing upwards: a fuckton of money. Money got from his humble start as the vampire at the shoulders of better men, by double-dealing them and sucking out their all too humble and gentle souls. It is perhaps only too fitting that he expired at a comparatively young age while pursuing quack cures for cancer when cancer treatment he could have paid for a thousand times over was right down his stupid autonomous vehicle ridden, dormitory (serf) housing lined, homeless peopled street.