The Macalope Daily: Expert opinion

And now, direct to you from the annals of Great Moments In Expert Writing, the Macalope brings you the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson on “The legacy of Steve Jobs”.

Before reading this, you should know the following: I do not own an iPad, an iPhone, an iPod or a Mac. I abandoned my typewriter only recently. In short, I have not enlisted in the digital revolution and have kept my involvement to a desktop computer, email and the Internet.

Already the Macalope can tell you’re uniquely suited to write about a technology icon. Please, carry on.

No one can deny Jobs’s accomplishment.

One wonders if Samuelson can even name Jobs’s accomplishments, other than to rattle off some Apple products.

Apple’s products inspire (it’s a cliche to say) a cult-like following.

Oh, so you can’t name them without resorting to tired clichés. That’s a good sign. Although the typewriter bit should have tipped us off.

You know, Robert, if it’s a cliché to say it, it’s probably best not said. It’s also best not said simply because it’s a lazy slur.

People feel incomplete, so I’m told, if deprived of their Apple devices. There’s separation anxiety.

“Separation anxiety”? Sounds like somebody’s been reading a bunch of pseudo-science claptrap on The New York Times op-ed page. Reading it, but not linking to it, of course, since it’s the competition.

All this has made for a hugely successful business, but history’s demands are different. What makes something historically significant is the magnitude and permanence of its impact.

The man founded the company that is largely responsible for turning personal computers, digital music players, and smartphones into household items. How’s that for having permanent impact?

By history’s measure, Jobs’s achievements are tiny.

You really thought writing this piece was a good idea? Seriously?

Transforming the music industry is not the same as transforming society. There are many technological advances that had a far larger impact on society: antibiotics, air travel, air conditioning and television. By contrast, many of Apple’s products are gadgets, as commentators have noted. Their ultimate social impact may be less than Facebook’s.

“Gadgets” said the man who just ditched his typewriter. The Washington Post: providing the latest in 19th century thought!

If Samuelson knew anything about technology or Apple, he might know what transformative products the Apple II and the Mac were. And, after those successes, Jobs went on and did it again with digital music players and smartphones. And created a ground-breaking entertainment company with an unparalleled track record of hit films.

Samuelson argues that Henry Ford stands above Jobs because his mass production technique was adopted so widely and changed society. The fault here, dear Robert, lies not in Steve Jobs, but in the industry. Jobs’s legacy is one of providing user-centric tools that, in the wonderfully apt words you quote yourself, “feel like they’re handcrafted, even though they’re obviously mass produced.” It’s not Steve Jobs’s or Apple’s fault that no one else seems able to duplicate their success. Ford made a system that was easy to duplicate by people who were just interested in making a buck. Jobs’s system requires you to actually care about the product you’re making and how the user interacts with it. That’s a rarer commodity.

His more modest legacy will fade with time. A century from now, historians and ordinary Americans will still remember Edison and Ford. Jobs will be a footnote, if that.

Samuelson, meanwhile, will still remember that sweet Selectric he had.

Of course, no one yet knows what Jobs’s legacy will be. Maybe it’ll be less like Ford’s and Edison’s and more Frank Lloyd Wright’s or Andy Warhol’s. What we do know is that it won’t be made by someone like Samuelson, who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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