Steve Jobs is America (and so can you)

NOWAK: If Apple is not the perfect example of the quintessential American dream, nothing is


In a classic case of “where were you when,” I was just finishing up as a guest discussant at York University in Toronto Wednesday night when I found out Steve Jobs had passed away. It was sad news, especially given that Jobs, Apple and the iPhone had ironically come up many times during the class, which is all about broadband, the Internet and technology.

My book Sex, Bombs and Burgers is actually part of the course reading, presumably selected to give students a break from the dry TCP/IP protocols and CRTC regulatory issues they normally have to digest. The chapters assigned for reading and then discussion in class were those dealing with the Internet’s formation, as well as the pornography industry’s influence in helping to develop it.

One student put forward a question that I found to be particularly poignant later, after learning of Jobs’ death: If pornography is such a big driver of innovation, aren’t countries that ban it stunting their ability to innovate?

It was a thought-provoking query, not because of Apple’s own half-hearted attempt to ban porn from its products, but because of the deeper societal and economic issues it touched on.

I meandered through the answer until concluding that yes, countries that ban porn are doing themselves significant harm. It’s not just porn, though—outlawing smut is almost always the start of a slippery slope, which inevitably leads to other rights being curtailed. Countries that place such limits on citizens’ freedoms—whether it’s looking at dirty pictures, being able to speak freely or protesting online or in the streets—are usually not very progressive or innovative.

China, where porn and many other freedoms are technically banned, is a great example. The country desperately wants to transform itself from the world’s manufacturing centre into an innovation hub and is throwing billions of dollars at emerging technology research, such as nanotech, to do so. But what the country isn’t doing—and what it is effectively preventing with its various limitations—is encouraging regular people to invent and create. China is trying to innovate on an institutional level, but it isn’t creating a culture of innovation.

The United States has fostered and nurtured just such a culture better than anyone for at least the past century. It has given the world the likes of Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and, yes, Steve Jobs, not to mention a whole slew of others. These are individuals who were consumed with the ability to create something new, but more importantly – whether it was in a garage or a basement—they had the freedom to follow their visions.

True innovation, therefore, doesn’t come from up on high. It comes from below, sometimes literally in the case of those businesses that started in basements.

Everything Apple is today is a testament to that culture and way of life. Jobs, along with his friend Steve Wozniak, started business literally in his family’s garage and now, almost 40 years later, it’s the most valuable technology company in the world. If that’s not the perfect example of the quintessential American dream, nothing is.

Steve Jobs really is more than just an entrepreneur and an inventor, he’s a symbol of that culture of innovation, and one that you don’t have to be an American to admire. His accomplishments have doubtlessly inspired many people around the world and hopefully will continue to do so.

The title of this post comes from Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (and So Can You). It’s a weirdly worded title for a book, but with a slight alteration, I think it perfectly describes the life and legacy of Steve Jobs.

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Steve Jobs is America (and so can you)

  1. Sad as the death of any genius like Mr Jobs is, it is important to remember that, to my knowledge, he did nothing to help deal with one of America’s major problems.
    Despite more than one million people having been deported from the US since Barack Obama took office, roughly two million young people in the US are unaware that they are classified as illegal immigrants, according to government, journalistic and scholarly estimates.
    It would have been interesting to know what Mr Jobs could have eventually done to fix this problem.  Unfortunately, he died young.

    • What an idiotic cheap shot. 

    • He also failed to cure cancer, write the great American novel, resurrect Elvis or even plough his way through The Thoughts of Chairman Haugeneder.  A clear case for intervention by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.  Unfortunately, he died before they could arraign him.

  2. Well now that you’ve rah rahed America, and connected Jobs to porn it might interest you to know he was the son of a Syrian Muslim, eventually becoming a Buddhist himself…and he considered the most valuable class he ever took was callligraphy.

  3. It’s too bad that people are so enamored with financial gain, that they ignore TRUE INNOVATORS like Jay Miner.  It’s also “not terribly convenient”  to disclose “The Reality of The American Dream” to the public…one of true innovation, of making a better product, and having BIG MONEY destroy your dreams, and keep a far superior product from ever reaching widespread public knowledge.

    Sure, Steve Jobs had some great ideas, and I’ve followed his stuff since the Apple II, IIe, and Apple Lisa (the precursor to the Mac which almost nobody even knows about!), but he also knew that people buy ADVERTISING, they do not buy COMPUTERS.

    Jay Miner made COMPUTERS that were the absolute best on the market, and despite HIS contributions, he is little more than a footnote that almost nobody knows about.

    Google “Jay Miner” and learn about a TRUE innovator…and wonder what we COULD have had, were it not for the superficial fixations of the public, big money, and big advertising, taking the place of engineering, design and quite simply, far better actual products.

    But feel free to keep your attention focused on what is advertised to you…that’s better for corporations.

    “Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so.”
      — Bertrand Russell
         British author, mathematician, & philosopher (1872 – 1970)

    • If you are going to wear your “thinker” credentials on your sleeve by bellowing Bertrand Russell at us, please give some credit to our intelligence.  Do you really think we need to be told that he was a “British author, mathematician” etc. etc.  He was also a nasty piece of work whose service in WWII amounted to boasting of having cuckolded T. S. Eliot.  (Went to a good Cambridge college though.)

  4. ‘Is . . . can”?  Peter Nowak needs to take a refresher course in Writing 101.

  5. I agree with the previous comment – to keep things in perspective, the I phone is still just a toy, really and not something necessary to one’s survival.  Also, the unsavoury idea that allowing pornography is necessary for a country to encourage innovation is a non-starter if you consider that Great Britain allows only the softest of porn yet the number of innovations stemming from there, past and recent, is astonishing if you research the subject!

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