Apple Products and the Force of Personality

As fascinating and well paced as Walter Isaacson's biography of the late Steve Jobs is, Jobs's character did not "click" for me until page 486.

The context is Jobs struggling in a hospital near death with pneumonia. Isaacson writes:

"Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told him it was too ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply. . . ."

Suddenly Isaacson's thesis fell into place: Jobs was hard-wired to be the person he was; Jobs's life is admirable, because he found a way to engage with and contribute to the world that wholly leveraged his temperament.

Apple Products and the Force of Personality

Later in the book (page 543) Isaacson quotes Jobs speaking about one of his own children. "She's in the process of learning how to be who she is, but tempers it around the edges so that she can have the friends that she needs." I read into this a self-awareness, too, and a moral philosophy of life, almost as though you should assess your own personality as a resource for which the optimum use should be found.

The book may have implications for the political debates between proponents of open or closed systems. Or, at least, it debunks the idea that all players in the market arrive rationally at the views they have.

You put the book down with the conviction that Apple's strong positions on the side of integration and utility are not reasoned business calculations but rather manifestations of Jobs's own aesthetic of control. It is absolutely eye-opening to pick up and work with an iPhone, having just read Isaacson's work.


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