Dear Steve Jobs

Dear Steve Jobs

Like Tesla, Edison, Bell, Marconi and DaVinci, you have so soon after your too-early departure, become one of history’s great innovators.  Unlike those other great minds, you changed the world – twice!  Miles changed music twice and that is impressive, but you, you changed the entire world – twice.  And while the introduction of the personal computer was ground-breaking and civilization-changing, it is the smart phone that will be your most enduring legacy.  And I’ve got a bone to pick:

We are prisoners.  Some succumb much more willingly than others, but willing or not, we are prisoners.  We are now dependent upon these little monsters to get us where we’re going and remind us that we need to be there.  We rely on them to do simple arithmetic, correct our spelling and grammar, and document our lives.  We literally can’t get in the door to see our dentist without a flurry of intrusive text messages that require a response and often the completion of ill-formatted forms and questionnaires prior to entry to the sacred place.  We simply – as the old ad used to claim – “don’t leave home without it”.

Dear Steve Jobs

All this probably sounds like a good thing; smartphones must be freeing our minds from these mundane chores and activities so that we may pursue higher level, more intellectual endeavors.  Except that they haven’t.  On the contrary, we are becoming a society in which computing simple math problems ‘in your head’ is considered exotic – store clerks not only can’t make change correctly, but many can’t even correctly read back the amount of change the computer told them to give you!   

Worse, much worse, is the ease of access to social media that smartphones enable, keeping much of the nation muddled in a whirl of lies, misinformation and purposeful manipulation by these very social media companies, where words written by an educated professional don’t look any different than those of ignorant, racist Georgian congresspeople or crackpots typing away in Grandma’s basement.   

Smartphones actively bother us to set up apps to let us know if we are healthy or sleeping well, because apparently, we can’t even figure that out for ourselves anymore.  They have helped create an increasingly self-isolating young populace, so conditioned to stare at the damn things that the preferred method of enjoying a movie is holding a little box for two hours with ear buds crammed in their ears, even in the presence of a big TV and a powerful sound system!  There won’t be enough orthopedic surgeons in the world in about twenty years, when holding the phones for hours a day has caused millions of CMC joints to disintegrate.   

And then there is your company.  As the iPhone is their only real product now, they are leveraging it for all it is worth, using dirty tricks like harvesting credit card numbers from iTunes accounts and using them to clandestinely set up ApplePay on our phones, as well as using every threat and coercion technique they can come up with just short of threatening to come and smash it with a hammer, to assure that we ‘sign in’ to our phone and thus by default, iCloud.  There can be only one reason they are so intent on getting us to log in to their computer that they purposely configure it so that if we don’t, our phone will be forever lost to it finder: data mining.

The 5 GB of storage available in your ‘cloud’ (how I despise that term) cannot be better or more efficient than the ten to thirty times as much free memory on the phone itself.  This idea that software companies have crammed down our throats that everything is better when we’re online, is a huge crock of old processor chips.  It is better for the software companies, because they can track everything we do, catalog it, and sell it; all the while proclaiming their concern for our privacy – yeah.  Personally, I’d rather be out the $700 if I lose my phone than have Apple up my pant leg all day every day.

Simple folk that won’t get a Covid vaccine because they imagine it will enable them to be tracked would be helped to know that they are being tracked now.  Everything we do or buy or browse or say or take a picture of and every place we click to or travel to – ALL OF IT – is being tracked, recorded, cataloged and sold, because we are prisoners.  

Maybe you could only foresee the good the iPhone would do.  Maybe you only foresaw the money iPhone would make.  Maybe you could see some of the good and some of this mess, and just figured that the good would outweigh the bad.  Maybe in the end it will, although I for one am not optimistic.  In the meantime Steve Jobs, being a prisoner sucks.  Just thought I’d mention it.

Stefán Neary

Stefán Neary lives with his family in New England,
where he works as an IT consultant and part-time chef.

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