October
7th 2011
American ingenuity: Steve Jobbed?

Posted under: American history, captivity, class, technoskepticism

Has the over-the-top coverage of the sadly premature death of Steve Jobs (1955-2011) struck anyone as perhaps a telling sign of anxiety over the prospect of American decline?  Specifically, I’m writing about the decline in technological innovation, but I think it speaks to anxities about the future of the United States in all kinds of global leadership questions as well as the current state of the U.S. economy.

From my perspective, Jobs is an odd person to lionize.  Don’t get me wrong–he helped develop and sell a number of remarkably nifty gadgets, but he wasn’t the inventor.  He was the CEO of Apple–a company that moved most of its manufacturing to China.  So all of the comparisons to Thomas Edison seem way overblown, and quite frankly, I don’t think his business model was as progressive as Henry Ford’s.  Can the Chinese laborers who assemble our i-Pods, i-Pads, and i-Phones afford to buy them themselves, in the way that Ford made sure his employees were well-paid enough to afford cars of their own?  There is all of that River Rouge business, I know, but Jobs didn’t need to call the Pinkertons in to bust up strikes.  He shipped those manufacturing jobs overseas to an authoritarian country where they don’t have to fuss with unions, or strikes, or most of the other tiresome aspects that come with employing human beings.

49 Comments »

49 Responses to “American ingenuity: Steve Jobbed?”

  1. Dr. Koshary on 07 Oct 2011 at 9:23 am #

    I’ve been having the same thought, Historiann, although my take on it is: Of course Americans are lionizing him. He made a shit-ton of money selling stuff. The difference from the usual let-us-now-praise-wealth-men business is that Jobs presided over a company that produced consumer goods favored by a lot of ostensibly left-wing and even anti-corporate, anti-consumerist hipsters. (Like, um, me.) That, and Jobs seemed passionate about the idea of making cool stuff, rather than simply accumulating material wealth in the way of the stereotypical CEO.

    The dirty details of how Apple products are manufactured is so far from most Americans’ minds that they barely have to go to the trouble of ignoring those details. Honesty compels me to observe that I also harbor some fondness for Jobs’ vision of ambition: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” For people who focus on the creative, innovative end of manufacture, that’s genuinely inspiring. (And, like I said, I also use and enjoy products he shepherded through development.) But those people rarely have any contact with the manufacture of a product, once it goes beyond prototype. Perhaps this is simply the articulation of the good and the harm that people achieve by certain engagements with capitalist corporate manufacture.

    Quick notes: you wrote “most of the other tiresome aspects that come with employing human beings.” Er, did you drop an adjective somewhere? I cannot believe that you would oppose Chinese people to human beings, so I’ll assume that some clarifying word slipped out of that sentence.

    Also, as the grandson of four people who refused on moral principle ever to buy a car from the company that funded and distributed The Dearborn Independent, I feel qualms about taking Henry Ford as an example of a straight-arrow and progressive, if predictably anti-union CEO.

    Finally, The Onion appears to agree with your assessment of anxiety about US decline:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/last-american-who-knew-what-the-fuck-he-was-doing,26268/

  2. Historiann on 07 Oct 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks, Koshary, for your comment & the link to the Onion article.

    On the “human beings”–I didn’t leave out an adjective, but I didn’t mean to suggest that the Chinese aren’t human beings! Rather, I meant that the Chinese regime doesn’t permit the workers to be *treated* like human beings (by being permitted to organize, protest their working conditions, bargain for better pay/hours/vacation time, etc.) My objections to the U.S.’s enthusiasic exportation of manufacturing to places like China are twofold in that they’re bad for U.S. workers of course but those jobs are NOT the same jobs when they’re shipped to China. They’re objectively much more poorly paid and much worse overall.

  3. Susan on 07 Oct 2011 at 9:36 am #

    I’ve been stunned. He was a CEO, not a god. And I know people have close relationships with their iPhones and iPads, but still: a one hour NPR special? Really?

    But I think you may have overanalyzed it: it’s among the media classes that iPhones and iPads are the be-all and end-all. And they are worried that no one will ever give them such good toys ever again.

  4. good enough cook on 07 Oct 2011 at 9:39 am #

    Yes, and thank you for saying it.

  5. Historiann on 07 Oct 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Susan: that’s brilliant! It hadn’t occured to me that it was a media-class fetish, but maybe it is.

  6. Kathie on 07 Oct 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Yes, the schlocky music on the Today Show really set me off! Speaking as someone who does not own a single Apple product (though others in my family do) …

    I think he did have a vision that had an impact on many people, but I heard a statistic on NPR (I think) that only some small percent of Americans own an Apple product. Now I can’t recall the number, or find it, but the point was that Apple products tend to be expensive luxury items, and many of the sales are to Apple fans who are simply upgrading their old computer or phone (with a lot of resultant electronic trash as well).

    Jobs is listed as the inventor or co-inventor on over 300 patents, so he undoubtedly had some role in the development of Apple products. Still … the coverage is a reflection of the blinkered media.

  7. J. Otto Pohl on 07 Oct 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I have never owned any Apple products. But, I find the deification of Jobs eery. It is like Stalin in the USSR or Mao in China, a cult of personality. I wonder if they are going to embalm his body?

  8. Vellum on 07 Oct 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I think in part it may be because he’s become an icon of the “bootstraps” version of the American dream mythos. Go read some of the Wikipedia article: he’s the genius-slash-self-made man self-made man who drops out of high school, goes on a spiritual retreat, and founds a company that makes him rich and touches the lives of millions. His existence helps people to believe the myth that anyone in America can massively succeed in life if they’re clever enough, because America is a ‘meritocracy’, didn’t you know?

    And they can say “He did it all by himself – I’m well-off because I did it all by myself – If you’re poor it’s because you don’t work hard enough.” The rich are rich and the poor are poor, because they deserve it. Steve Jobs proves it.

    Or something.

  9. anonymous on 07 Oct 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Well, speaking of odd reverence for businessmen who don’t invent very much, the Thomas Edison comparisons are actually apt, though unintentionally so.

  10. Matt_L on 07 Oct 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Susan, that is a great answer, its totally a media class thing! Steve Jobs was their guy.

    Otherwise, the Jobs Cult-of-Personality seems to fit with the larger pattern of Americans kissing the asses of the likes like Andrew Carnegie and Nelson Rockefeller. Steve Jobs is Andrew Carnegie of our second gilded age.

    I liked the products Jobs had a hand in developing. But I don’t like the way they are made under the control of an anti-union, neo-feudal, plutocracy. And the conditions in the Chinese factories are even worse. But to be fair, Apple is no different than any other consumer electronics company. Most of our manufactured consumer goods are produced under appalling conditions. The exception might be the automobile industry.

  11. anonymous on 07 Oct 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Examples of things Edison didn’t invent:
    http://jawadonweb.com/?page_id=900

    He was really good at patenting stuff, though.

  12. sophylou on 07 Oct 2011 at 10:42 am #

    just saw this: http://newsthump.com/2011/10/07/tributes-continue-to-pour-in-for-dead-iphone-factory-worker/

    yes re the media class. But I’m also wondering if the near-deification of Jobs is a measure of American technocracy, which, to me, sits a little uncomfortably with his carpe diem/”don’t live someone else’s life” message. But I may be conflating him with Zuckerberg there.

  13. Comrade PhysioProf on 07 Oct 2011 at 11:08 am #

    (1) I feel bad when anyone dies too young.

    (2) Jobs is lionized because he is one of the few CEO/politician/rich-motherfucker/celebrity types who is prominently in the public eye and does not present as a sick-fucke deranged greedy vicious drooling scumbag.

  14. GayProf on 07 Oct 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Isn’t it interesting, too, that at the moment when thousands are mobilized to protest against Wall Street and the economic status quo that the media has opted to celebrated somebody who used that system for his own wealth? Perhaps his genius lay in convincing people that buying an Apple product made them special in some sort of way that only capitalist brand identification can manage.

  15. Sarabeth on 07 Oct 2011 at 11:27 am #

    For someone who made so much money, Steve Jobs is remarkable for having given pretty much none of it away (unless very anonymously, which is possible).

    I’m not particularly enamoured of the CEO-philanthropist model of social welfare. But I do think that being worth 6 billion dollars creates an ethical obligation to do something with all that money to make the world a better place. Iphones don’t count.

  16. Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 07 Oct 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    [...] Historiann asks whether the outpouring of grief over the death of this brilliant and peculiar man is yet another symptom of anxiety over national decline. Oh yes — and, since our friend brings up the exploitation of Chinese labor by Apple — [...]

  17. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    I’m no huge Apple or Steve Jobs fangirl, but I think you do him a bit of a disservice. He, by all accounts, provided a lot of the vision that led to the transformative products, even if the technical details were often filled in by others. Sure, he needed their technical knowledge to create the products. But just as surely, they need his vision.

    He is receiving accolades from the geeks, not just the press- and believe me, geeks will call it if they see credit going where it is not due.

    The days of the solo inventor are mostly gone, in my opinion. The cool things being invented now are largely team efforts.

    @Sarabeth- do the jobs that iphones created count? The iphone created a new type of program- the app. And the boom in app development has created lots of work for computer programmers. (Which has made it harder for me and many of my friends to hire them for our less flashy projects…. Now is an excellent time to be a good programmer. But I digress.)

    I know that most people here lean left, and so do I, albeit perhaps a bit less heavily than many of you. But I think there is something to be said for the creation of jobs. It wasn’t that long ago that all of the tech sites were full of people worrying about their jobs being offshored. I hear a lot less of that from programmers now. A lot of that is due to the fact that the offshoring pendulum has swung back towards center in software. But I think at least some of it can be attributed to the fact that there is now more programming work to do, because programs have moved from being only on our computers to being on our phones.

    And, if I can get on my soap box for just a minute: I get so tired of people dismissing programming as not making anything of value. (I am not saying anyone here is doing this, merely commenting on a more general opinion I hear.) Computer programmers create things just as surely as someone working in manufacturing does. Some of those things have more value than others, but that is true in manufacturing, too.

    Also, perhaps we should wait and see what his will does with his money before we decide whether or not he has given any away. If we wanted more of it while he was alive, we should change our tax codes.

  18. quixote on 07 Oct 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Me too. Surprised by all the adulation. He was a marketing genius and very good at aesthetics. That’s not nothing, and it’s always been a good way to make money, but it’s not actually the same as adding a lot of social value.

    As for the pretty products, they come at a steep price and they’re designed from top to bottom to lock you in. That, too, is not exactly a social good. It is a way to make a lot of money.

    Nor are subhuman working conditions in your factories a social good. They do make (short term) money.

    There’s a theme there, somewhere, and I think it may be the same one people often lionize.

    There’s a longstanding joke in the tech world that Jobs had a reality warping field around him. Reporters would listen to his presentations and submit starry-eyed copy about the newest Oooh! Shiny! Then later on, during the flight home after coming out from under the ether, they’d think, “Wait. What? What did he actually say?”

    It almost looks like the field may have been one of the things he couldn’t take with him. It’s fallen back to Earth. Once it wears off, we may hear voices saying, “Wait. What? What did he actually do?”

  19. Historiann on 07 Oct 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Cloud: thanks for your perspective. I don’t mean to pee on anyone’s grave here–as CPP says, it’s always sad when someone dies before hir time. My post was more about the nonstop media hypercoverage of Jobs’s life and legacy and how ironic that is given that Apple engaged in the same race-to-the-bottom strategies for finding labor that are all of a piece with the decline in the fortunes of the United States.

    I’m happy that there is more work for programmers. I just wish there were more work (and better paid work) for everyone.

    And thanks, anonymous, for the corrective information on Thomas Edison. Sorry!

  20. Wini on 07 Oct 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    The record player’s inclusion on the list of things Edison didn’t invent is a bit overly literal. (he is critiquing Edison because, the shape is wrong and Edison didn’t know it was going to be used mainly for music so his intentions were wrong?) So Edison gets points off for not being literally the first, AND points off because someone eventually improved on his product? The author is missing most of the key points, and putting me in a position of defending the man, which i’m not used to.

    I found out about Jobs’ death reading a tweet from grandmaster flash on my iPad. (flash was tweeting live from Occupy Wall Street.) I was sad that someone so young died, especially someone whose work impacted many people’s lives. Then I woke up to pictures of vigils at Tokyo apple stores and was all like WTF people? Then I remembered the work conditions for Apple manufacturers. But my high school stand partner did make enough money from her app that she could quit a job she hated and get one that pays a lot less but doesn’t suck.

    Typing takes forever on this iPad, but reading PDFs is heavenly. Also ereader autocorrects to dreaded.

  21. anonymous on 07 Oct 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Just to add to what GayProf said above: perhaps his genius (though he’s probably not the first to do so) also is that he was able use planned obsolescence, even for those who identify themselves as anti-consumerist, as the basis of a cult of membership. And that’s not even to bring up the environmental impact of products that quickly become obsolete or where if one component breaks or wears out, the entire thing needs to be replaced.

  22. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    @Historiann- of course I want to see more (and better paying) jobs for everyone, too. But I see the current boom in tech jobs as part of that. Programming is one of the most fiercely egalitarian fields I know. You don’t need a fancy degree (or any degree, if you’re good enough). What matters is your code. I would hire (and have hired) someone with a degree from University of Phoenix or the equivalent over someone with a degree from an Ivy league school if the former’s code was better. You can literally teach yourself to program in your spare time. It requires a computer of some sort, the ability to think logically, and the discipline to learn the best practices.

    Now, not all programming jobs are equal. There are low end assembly line jobs and high end design jobs. There are jobs like mine that require you also have graduate level knowledge in a specialized domain. But you can actually work your way from low end to high end if you’re smart, and the low end jobs (which still pay fairly well) are definitely accessible to someone retrained from manufacturing. Or in the case of someone I know, farming.

    You know how you get frustrated about people referring to academia as “not the real world”? That is sort of how I feel about the idea that tech jobs aren’t for everyone. They can be. We just need to figure out how to get the retraining infrastructure right. From where I sit, it is retraining people too narrowly right now. It is aiming them too low.

    The problem of the treatment of manufacturing employees in other countries is a separate problem, and I don’t know enough to have an opinion on how we should fix that, although I strongly agree that it should be fixed. I suspect, though, that the fix is not going to involve wholesale repatriation of those jobs to the US- so I wish we’d start thinking more strategically about what sorts of jobs are here, and how to get more of the unemployed people into them. It is crazy that my department has four open slots in a recession like this- and almost criminal that every tech manager I know has the same hiring problem.

  23. dandelion on 07 Oct 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Right. Tech jobs for everyone.

    Until you hit 50 years old, that is. Then it’s out with the old and in with the young.

    Tech jobs are NOT at all egalitarian. The gender-discrimination and age-discrimination issues in Silicon Valley are horrendous.

    Cloud — I’m glad your department has open positions.

    But a lot of IT workers have lost jobs in this Lesser Depression, and those job losses follow on wage compression brought about by the Bush admin’s admitting 1 million IT workers on H-1-b visas.

    So your picture is nicely rosy, but it ain’t at all the whole picture.

  24. koshembos on 07 Oct 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    In a large way, I am with Cloud. We still live with the Edisonian model of invention. Sorry guys, the world, technology and the complexity of today’s artifacts narrowed the role of the eureka element to rarity.

    Sciences, e.g. Nobel prizes this week, is different but also changed from one winner to several quite frequently.

    Jobs the micro-manager that was impossible to work for is fully deserving of a lot of praise for the ipod, iphone and ipad. Mind you, none of these ideas was originated with Jobs or even Apple. Even from the very beginning, the big success of Apple II with it fancy windows was a copy of the Xerox Alto.

  25. Ugsome on 07 Oct 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    I wrote a scathing comment on the idea that he made the world a better place.http://elizabitchez.blogspot.com/2011/10/and-all-i-got-was-this-lousy-iphone.html

  26. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    @dandelion- do you work in tech? I do, and have for almost 15 years. So do almost all of my friends. I know a lot of 50+ people still working and doing well. Heck, I currently report to someone who was lured out of retirement. If you stay current, you stay employable. If you’re still only writing COBOL… well, yeah, your options are fewer.

    Now, 10 years ago, during the offshoring craze, the picture was a lot less rosy. In fact, that was part of my point- the tech boom brought on in part by the boom in app programming has really improved the employment picture in this field.

    It is not just my department hiring and struggling to find good people. It is every single tech manager that I know. It is a problem that is getting written about in the industry press.

    Gender discrimination still occurs. But that happens in pretty much every industry. And frankly, I think outright discrimination is less in the tech side of my work than the science side, possibly because you can always fall back on something concrete: does the code run? Does it do what it is supposed to do?

    Perhaps you are thinking of only the most publicized type of tech jobs: the ones at early stage start ups. THOSE are heavily male, and almost exclusively young. But those are also a small percentage of jobs in the field.

  27. Ugsome on 07 Oct 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    @Cloud, the effect is cumulative. I too was lured by the idea that in IT the bullshit was self-limiting: does the code run or not? But after 15 years in the biz I had some shit sack trying to persuade me to stay where I was paid 20% less than the men with the condescending “But you’d be writing modules.” The shit started young (read my post) and never abated. Always paid less, always shut out, always patted on the head…….always a cunt. And my credentials are BETTER than Apple’s ex head of networking WHOM I MARRIED AND FUCKED. Q. E. FUCKING. D.

  28. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    @Ugsome, I don’t doubt your experience. That has not been my experience. We’re both right, because we’re both only talking about personal experience. I’ve run into plenty of sexist bullshit, but so have my friends working in . To get at the level of sexism in programming, we’d want data, not anecdotes. But that isn’t really the point.

    I don’t think the fact that programming- like the rest of society- is still sexist detracts from my original point that there are more jobs in programming now thanks to the app boom, which owes a lot to Steve Jobs.

    Or from my follow on point that we should think about retraining out of work people to fill some of those jobs.

    My original point about programming being egalitarian was more about educational background than gender- as in, you can retrain at DeVry (or your local community college) and have a good shot at landing a decent job. As opposed to science, where we’re a bit more pedigree driven. Given your reference to your credentials, I suspect you disagree with me there, too. Different corners of the tech world, I guess.

  29. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    Ha. The comment engine didn’t like brackets. Should have guessed that.

    That should read: “but so have my friends working in (insert any field here).”

    Sorry about that.

  30. dandelion on 07 Oct 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    cloud — if you’ve worked in programming for 15 years, then you’re not 50 yet.

    So you might want to check on the age discrimination when you get there.

    Yes, there may be more jobs in programming thanks to the app industry. Good for those who write code, but that’s only one slice of the IT pie.

    And I suppose it’s something to fall back on, though I think that for every programmer in the US there are a lot more well-educated offshore willing to work for way less. And they will be turned to. That’s what happened in the Bush years, after corporate America got fed up paying high IT costs during the 90s tech boom and demanded Bush help them lower those costs – that’s precisely why the admin granted 1 million H-1-b visas.

    I’m not in tech, but I teach adult ed in the heart of Silicon Valley and most of my students are in the industry, as is my husband and most of our friends. That age 50 wall is a real concrete solid object, massively thick, and most everyone I’ve watched in this industry, not for 15 years but for 30-plus years, has smashed into it.

    I suppose I feel a little bristly about this because my best friend, a Stanford-graduate engineer head of his department just got put out to pasture from one of the big Valley firms, and my husband now is facing the same thing. And believe me, it has nothing to do with skills and everything to do with gray hair.

    Sure, they can find other work. We know that the unemployment rate for people with college degrees is vastly different than the one for those without. However. Fifty feels very young to be set aside, and at the same time a bit old to be starting over.

    I suppose I bristled a little at what I thought was your suggestion that tech was the path out of our unemployment problems in the US. I just think that’s a bit narrow-minded.

    It used to be that there were many paths toward a decent way of life in this country — one could own a shop, one could farm, one could be a mechanic or a contractor — and over the last 30 years all that has been slowly whittled away or swallowed into the giant maw of corporatization, and the only answer we offer is: more education. More science for more science high! (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.)

    But we don’t live in Lake Wobegon. The fact is that not everyone is cut out for more education, not everyone wants it, not everyone wants to do something like code, which can be mind-numbing piecework. In fact, many of my students are programmers (or lawyers — I teach a lot of lawyers, too) who take my classes because they hate their work and want to radically change their lives.

    We need many more routes for honored work in this country.

  31. cgeye on 07 Oct 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    This:
    “a media-class fetish”

    and most definitely THIS:
    “…that he was able to use planned obsolescence, even for those who identify themselves as anti-consumerist, as the basis of a cult of membership. And that’s not even to bring up the environmental impact of products that quickly become obsolete or where if one component breaks or wears out, the entire thing needs to be replaced.”

    When I use PCs, they aren’t pretty. They’re Frankenstein monsters — bits and pieces, but ones I can swap out and understand.

    Apple fetishized ignorance — no need to grok the guts of a system, or an OS (but of course the programmer Versailles class can tinker with bits, here and there). And, of course, the style fetish — things that *looked* intelligently functional, even if flawed — over commodity parts that required sweat equity, to improve.

    And ain’t it peculiar that the antiphon to 9/11 — OWS — is countered by the Jobs hagiography? And ain’t it even more peculiar that his Syrian-American heritage pops up, when it could have done so much more good while he was alive, to battle Arab/Middle Eastern bias?

  32. cgeye on 07 Oct 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    “It is crazy that my department has four open slots in a recession like this- and almost criminal that every tech manager I know has the same hiring problem.”

    Let’s get down to brass tacks: Does your department ask for a craazy bunch of tech skills that can’t be found in the general populace of applicants?

    Are those workers required to be gainfully employed, as they seek work from your firm?

    And, what wages are offered? Are those wages competitive with US coders, or only outsourced ones?

    No boasting about having positions during the Lesser Depression, without qualifying just how picky those positions probably are.

  33. truffula on 07 Oct 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    We need many more routes for honored work in this country.

    Indeed.

    I for one shed a tear for Steve Jobs, as I would for anybody. Also, his tech vision made my work world better. I’m weary of the commentary about his design sense and Apple customers being slaves to the new. Apple under Steve Jobs’ leadership was about a lot more than that. It was about technology that works well. I’m only one step removed from Luddism and I am not an early adopter of anything. When Apple bought NeXT and Steve Jobs returned, I knew that my work environment was about to get better and it did. I write programs, I run big processes on big machines, and I do a lot of testing and data visualization on desktops. OS X was a big deal to me.

  34. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    cgeye, two of the jobs have 6 figure salaries. Two are probably about $75k/year, maybe more. The tech skills needed are Java and c-sharp, possibly a little JavaScript. But mainly the ability to write clean code, which has been the stumbling point for the applicants we’ve had.

    One of the jobs is quite specialized and requires domain expertise that most people won’t have- probably a PhD. One is borderline. The other two are pretty mainstream. We’ve been reduced to cobbling together hours from contractors who have other full time jobs. We pay them well- all about $90-100/hour.

    My husband is trying to hire a plain old JavaScript programmer and has been interviewing for months. The salary would be similar to his, which is US competitive.

    Two of his colleagues have similar positions, with similar salaries.

    I’m almost 40. My boss is 55, and still coding (although he’d rather hire coders to do it for him). One of my best contractors is 50+, and makes about $200/hour.

    But again, these are anecdotes. If we really want to know the situation, we’d need data, which I neither have nor care to go find.

    I’ll agree that the tech world could be a lot better in a lot of respects. But what is your alternative for the folks laid off from manufacturing jobs? Because the tech jobs on offer aren’t perfect, they should take the high road and just collect unemployment?

  35. dandelion on 07 Oct 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    Cloud — how about we rebuild manufacturing in this country?

    But… on another note… thinking about Jobs.

    I was remembering Apple’s 1984 commercial: such a stark and unapologetic commodification of dissent, perfect for the Age of Irony we were entering.

    And now here we are years later — dissent building, enabled in part by Apple products. Dissent against the bankster class, and what stock is the numer one holding for that class? Apple.

    Irony upon irony. Wouldn’t it be something if all that irony at last gave way to something, like, I don’t know, passion?

  36. Cloud on 07 Oct 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    @dandelion, I’m all for rebuilding manufacturing in the US, assuming we can figure out how to do it in a way that makes sense- but manufacturing isn’t going to get rebuilt fast enough to help the people unemployed now, and is never going to be at the levels it once was. People will need to retrain into something else, and I think they could do a lot worse than retraining into programming.

    All of this discussion started because I said we should give Steve Jobs credit for having the vision for a future that helped rebuild an industry that was foundering a bit- I remember 10 years ago people were predicting that programmers were going to go the way of manufacturing workers in this company. That hasn’t happened, and I think that is at least in part due to the products Steve Jobs helped create. I understand the argument that he should have kept manufacturing in the US, but I wonder- if he’d done that, could he have set the price at a point where the iPhone would have taken off as it has done? If he had tried and failed with a more expensive iPhone, would we really be better off than we are now?

    I’m very sympathetic to the arguments about manufacturing- but I also think it is nowhere near as clear cut as it is often made out to be.

    My corner of the tech world is far removed from all of that. I work in data management and analysis in biotechnology. But for what it is worth, I’m pretty passionate about my work, actually.

  37. cgeye on 08 Oct 2011 at 2:34 am #

    Retraining is a creative-class boondoggle; as documented here (with data and anecdotes, both meaningful), the carrot always moves one length ahead, with the under- and unemployed encouraged to go deeper into debt for jobs that don’t exist, even before graduation.

    The academics who comment here have seen tired, poor, frustrated students try to keep up, and they fail because the goalposts continually change. No one’s playing fair — not the government, not the for-profit educators, not the non-profit institutions that tolerate usurious debt loads that help them build palaces to edifice greed.

    With the high level of unemployment, the jobs that are open now aren’t meant for workers to fill — they’re there as threats for the currently employed to work harder, or else. If they needed to be filled so urgently, on-the-job training would be available to bring borderline new hires up to speed. That’s how it used to be, when unions were strong, when workers were assumed to have a potential worth betting on, and employers expected decades of work out of their staff, with the promise of healthcare and a pension.

    And why in the hell should generations cast out of manufacturing trust tech industries? Those are the people who cheered outsourcing, and claimed it was the cat’s meow, freeing workers from drudgery. Outsourcing has now spread to other professions, such as law and medicine, and it won’t stop until domestic employment is seen as part of our national security. Just shrugging one’s shoulders over the worker suicides at Foxconn, and the lack of good industrial jobs domestically, well, seems graceless, at best.

    This is a history blog, and scholars here have understood the genius of Jefferson’s drafting of the Declaration, and his shameful slaveholding practices. Why can’t we give Jobs the same respect, as robber baron, social innovator and marketer supreme?

  38. LadyProf on 08 Oct 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Cloud, you probably mean well and I take your point about the growth of app-programmer jobs since Jobs, but jeebus, are you really denying the sexism and ageism and racism in tech? It’s pretty tedious to accuse accusers of not having data. There’s plenty of data about discrimination and underpaying of certain classes of workers. You just don’t have time to find it, I guess.

    You also seem to say that prejudice + oppression aren’t THAT bad if other sectors also treat women and over-50 workers etc. worse than under-50 white guys. Well, no. When a sector or a charismatic corporate leader gets hailed as saving the USA, being the great hope of our future, it or he has an obligation of leadership that lesser pretenders don’t share.

  39. Cloud on 08 Oct 2011 at 7:19 am #

    @LadyProf, that was a rather condescending comment, frankly, but hey whatever. I “mean well”, do I? Whatever. I am just stating an opinion that you and several others disagree with, but am refusing to cave to arguments that have nothing to do with my main point. Does that deserve a rhetorical pat on the head?

    I am absolutely NOT denying the sexism and ageism (or racism, although we haven’t talked about that yet) in tech. Did you read my posts? I agreed that these things exist.

    I’m sure the data exist. I don’t take the time to go find them because that is not how I want to spend my time. I am not a prof. Looking up random data could in now stretch be considered work for me. And I don’t care abut an internet discussion enough to spend my non-work time looking up data on problems I have already agreed exist.

    I just don’t think the fact that tech is as sexist, ageist, and racist as the rest of society negates my main points.

    I also never said that Jobs should get all the adulation he’s getting. I just said that he deserved more credit than Historiann and some of the rest of you are giving him, and mentioned the fact that he had a hand in revitalizing ONE SECTOR as something I think he deserves credit for.

  40. Cloud on 08 Oct 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I’ve thought about this some more, and want to make one final attempt to state my two points before I go away and leave you all alone.

    My points were:

    1. There are more tech jobs now than there would have been without Steve Jobs, and I think he deserves credit for that. Historiann’s original post didn’t disagree with that point, but I thought she sort of hinted that she didn’t think he actually did anything since he was the CEO of Apple, not one of the engineers.

    2. Since there are tech jobs going unfilled right now, I think we should try to retrain laid off workers from other sectors to fill them. I argued that the tech sector is egalitarian in the sense that someone with a degree from a retraining shop like DeVry or University of Phoenix can actually compete for jobs- as long as they have the technical chops. Which is in contrast with a lot of other fields where pedigree matters a lot, and someone wanting to retrain into them would need to find a way to go back and get a graduate degree from one of the “name” places.

    But I failed to issue the standard disclaimers:

    The tech world is just a sexist, racist, and ageist as any other sector, perhaps even more so in some cases. So the unfortunate rules of our working society still apply:

    Women and minorities need to be twice as good as the white guys.

    Older workers who have not found their way onto a management or “technical promotion” track will struggle.

    I do not, however, see how the fact that Steve Jobs (and the rest of the tech world ) failed to solve these problems which clearly exist in all of society and not just the tech world negates either of my main points.

    And now… it is a beautiful day here, and I’d rather go out and enjoy it than argue with a bunch of people I don’t know about something that none of us can control. So bye, and thanks for the discussion.

  41. Historiann on 08 Oct 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Had to be away yesterday afternoon welcoming my parents, who will be visiting for a while. But I want to underline & endorse what cgeye said in her last comment:

    And why in the hell should generations cast out of manufacturing trust tech industries? Those are the people who cheered outsourcing, and claimed it was the cat’s meow, freeing workers from drudgery. Outsourcing has now spread to other professions, such as law and medicine, and it won’t stop until domestic employment is seen as part of our national security. . . .

    This is a history blog, and scholars here have understood the genius of Jefferson’s drafting of the Declaration, and his shameful slaveholding practices. Why can’t we give Jobs the same respect, as robber baron, social innovator and marketer supreme?

    Right on.

  42. passante on 08 Oct 2011 at 9:07 am #

    The line about Chinese workers and the discussion in the comments about the problems of US industry being outsourced are only a very small part of the story. Yes, Apple products are all assembled in China, but Chinese workers only assemble parts imported to China from other countries, which accounts for 3-4% of the cost of the products. For every Apple product, over half of the cost is paid by Apple to German and Japanese companies – who might have outsourced some of their fabrication to China themselves, but the high-tech, high-quality industry of those countries has not been outsourced the way the American industry has. The US worker should thus not be competing with Chinese workers, but should be wondering why the US can’t compete with Germany and Japan (hint: German and Japanese workers are definitely not cheaper than American ones).
    Jobs is here a good symbol of American economy – a lot of creativity, risk-taking, design and marketing, that almost entirely relies on the technical prowess of European and Asian countries that have not decided that finances is an industry.

  43. Indyanna on 08 Oct 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Too late for this thread but I did like the line in the post about “anxieties about the U.S. in all *kinks* of global leadership questions.” Typo or slyly placed knife, it still speaks volumes! I missed most of the adulation fest for Jobs, but in the NYT obit, it was interesting to see how early the other guy (Wozniak?) fell off the page. Making cool presentations in jeans with the knees shredded out and 100X projections of the speaker behind him is what catches our attention now. Who knows who’s on the patent?

  44. gxm17 on 08 Oct 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    @ Kathie (post #6): In 2007 more than 20% of Americans owned an Apple product. I’m guessing that percentage, which I don’t consider small, has increased in the past five years especially with the debut of the iPad and Verizon’s iPhone.

  45. Historiann on 08 Oct 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Oops–Indyanna, that should read “kinds,” not “kinks.” I thought I had corrected that yesterday!

  46. LadyProf on 08 Oct 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    “Cloud, you probably mean well but [I disagree and here's more]…” doesn’t sound condescending to me, but then I am LadyProf.

  47. Historiann on 08 Oct 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    I didn’t read it as condescention–I thought you were making a good-faith effort to engage Cloud. I too was entirely skeptical of the egalitarian vision of tech jobs, but I don’t have any particular experience beyond my knowledge about the way women’s work (for example) is transhistorically and globally discounted, debased, and expected for free.

  48. Keri on 09 Oct 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    I always thought Steve Jobs received way too much credit and adulation compared to the other founding Steve of Apple- Steve Wozniak. Wozniak also is far less interested than Jobs was in being a CEO basking in the glory than doing the work. Wozniak actually did and does give back to the community. He was and is also far more open to innovations of others…

  49. Was I really too harsh on Steve Jobs? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 21 Oct 2011 at 8:41 am #

    [...] a few weeks ago, I noted that the encomia for his life’s work seemed strange to me because he was a celebrity CEO who outsourced jobs to China, which doesn’t strike me as a [...]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply