Apple Inc.

Yesterday, was the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Apple Corporation. Apple products have made an enormous difference in my life, as well as millions of others. About five years ago, I wrote a blog on Steve Jobs and how he benefited the college where I taught for many years. Apple’s anniversary gives me an occasion to repost it.

At the same time, I want to reinforce the doubts I expressed then about some of its products, especially the iPhone. Nothing depresses me more than to see people staring at their iPhone screens throughout the day—in restaurants, on the street, around the dinner table, while they are driving—anywhere it seems.

I believe the iPhone has become an addiction for all too many people. The constant preoccupation with the device has become a substitute for plain thinking, plain observing, plain reflection, conversation, rumination, or dreaming.

Here is what I wrote in October 2011:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Apple’s 1977 “Think Different” Advertising Campaign.

Steve Jobs went to Reed College where I taught psychology throughout my academic life and was a student while I was there before he dropped out after his first semester. For a while after, he continued to hang around the department, primarily in the heavily electronic physiological lab and audited several of our classes.

And it is true, as he noted in a graduation speech he delivered at Stanford several years ago that he was troubled by the fact that it cost his parents so much to send him there. I doubt, however, that was the only reason he dropped out.

I write about Steve Jobs not only out of respect but also because he and his original team at Apple brought the computer world to me. Throughout his life he remained extremely generous to Reed. After the first computers were produced at Apple, he gave each faculty member one and he continued the practice with each succeeding version of their personal computer.

I never would have learned to use one were it not for the simplicity, its user friendliness as it is called. That feature is characteristic of all Apple products, They are designed to be models of simplicity.

It was simple matter to learn how to use them, something I had previously found impossible with other computer operating systems around then and still do with complicated Windows-based computers. In a way, the early Mac with its graphic interface opened up a new life for me, gave me a better and clearer way to express myself, and eventually with the development of the Web and the Internet expanded the sources of information and the ease of obtaining them regardless of where I am.

You have to remember when this was, otherwise it makes no sense given the electronic world we live in today. It was in 1984, twenty-seven years ago [at the time of this writing], that the first Macintosh computer was produced. The picture above is what it looked like and something like it sat on my desk at Reed soon after it was manufactured.

I wrote my first book on it, a book on promoting energy conservation, with a word-processor known as MacWrite. Since my handwriting is atrocious, completely unreadable even to me, I never could have written such a heavily documented book without it.

Everyone once it a while I stop to think about the larger implications of the new products that Jobs and his group at Apple developed—the iPhone, iPod, the iPad. I’m not entirely certain they represent the positive contribution the personal computer does.

Haruki Murakami wrote about life before and after the development of the electronic revolution recently. I was reminded of what he said about this issue in thinking about the death of Steve Jobs and his enormous influence on society.

By setting the story [“Town of Cats,” published in the New Yorker] in 1984, before cell phones and e-mail and the Internet had become common, I made it impossible for my characters to use such tools. This in turn was frustrating for me. I felt their absence slowing down the speed of the novel. When I thought about it, though, not having such devices at the time—both in daily life and in the story—ceased to be an inconvenience. If you wanted to make a phone call, you just found a public telephone; if you had to look something up, you went to the library; if you wanted to contact somebody, you put a stamp on a letter and mailed it. Those were the normal ways to do those things. While writing the novel (and experiencing a kind of time slip), I had a strong feeling of what the intervening twenty-seven years had meant. Sorry to state the obvious, but maybe there’s not much connection between the convenience of people’s surroundings and the degree of happiness they feel.


Dom said...

My observations are the same as yours – “… people staring at their iPhone screens throughout the day—in restaurants, on the street, around the dinner table, while they are driving—anywhere it seems.” As you also said, it appears that “…the iPhone has become an addiction…”.

However, it seems that such iPhone behavior must provide users with significant satisfactions and need fulfillments, or such users would not spend so much time and so much money purchasing and using the iPhones to the extent that they do, rather than use such time and money in some other manner.

What is it that you believe that obsessive iPhone users are getting from their iPhone experience that to them is more desirable, and more important, then the “plain thinking, plain observing, plain reflection, conversation, rumination, or dreaming” that their iPhone use causes them not take advantage of?

Richard Katzev said...

Dom: Thank you, as always for your comment. It is clear the iPhone gives users immediate gratification, although they are not reading Kant. Instead, they are reading the countless texts from their many friends. Or listening to their favorite tunes. Or watching a film or youtube video. Who knows what they are doing? What they are doing is private, seen and known only to them. That is another part of its pleasures. The notion of simply letting your thoughts roam or looking closely at the passing scenes never seems to lead most users anywhere. The lack of patience is another lost virtue; those we seen in public areas can't wait to return to their home/apartment to see what's up. No, they need to know right now. And so on. Surely I am out of touch with the contemporary world. And I'm sure many others are less devoted to their iPhone too. The device has many advantages and can be a rich source of knowledge. But like anything else, it might be best to use it with moderation. Richard

Linda said...

Fascinating post, Richard. Especially your connection with Steve Jobs - you knew him when! Do you still have that first computer he gave you (wonder how much that might be worth)?

I have an adult daughter who lives and dies by her iPhone. I marvel at her mastery of the tool - with two thumbs she can type e-mails, texts, post directly to Facebook, etc. much faster than I can type it out on my desktop (and I am an old-school, very fast, touch typist). Her ability to utilize various "apps" makes her phone truly a life command center. But she is so shackled to it it worries me. It constantly chirps out notifications of new stuff (Facebook posts, instant messages, etc.) that she seems to need to view or respond to immediately. When we are together, she puts it aside and tries to resist its siren call, but she can only go so long without checking.

I agree with you that it seems to be an instant gratification thing - a new Facebook "like" is a quick reward. But must reciprocate with a "like" back to the original "liker" so you can get even more "likes." It is an addiction. And I think it is a false sense of connection. But I could go on and on about the effects of social media.

I love my personal computer, my iPhone and iPad - thank you, Steve Jobs! Like you said, they make many activities so much easier - research, writing, perhaps feeling a little safer when you are alone, but they can easily lure one into so much time consuming triviality. And I think I've read that the kind of electronic content consumption you and Dom are talking about impairs our ability to sustain concentration and think on a deeper level. I don't know - I suspect I'm out of touch with the cutting edge of digital life, too. I'm fine with that.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: I was not a buddy or even a friend of Jobs when he was at Reed, but we said hello to each other when we met in the lab and hallway. No I don't have that first computer or those that followed it. You are right, it is now worth big bucks. But I do have an extra MacBook Air (only 2 years old and like new), if you want it. Usually I get a new MacBook Air when a new arrives, but there's little room to improve them now, they are "state of the art." I think the Apple Corp. has run out of ideas; they all do eventually. Like you I cannot believe how fast some people can move their thumbs on that little thing. But I can't, nor can I readily bookmark anything like I can with my Firefox Browser, or write anything like I am doing now. I do text once in a while to those I know love to text, but there aren't many of them. If there is ever a fire in my apartment house, the first thing I'll grab if my MacBook Air. It is my brain and I can't manage without one of those. Richard