Inside Jobs

“I want to make a dent in the universe.”

                                                      -Steve Jobs

 

Define “dent”. Is it selling five million iPhone 5s in the first week of availability? Is it selling around twelve million songs on iTunes per month or nearly fifty million apps per day? Is it being the only choice in personal computing for the ‘creative class’ and inarguably the most sought after and revered brand in the world? At $400 Billion, perhaps being larger than the GDP of Greece qualifies?

It would for me, I can tell you that.

But Steve Jobs was a dreamer of big dreams and a doer of big things. I’m not sure those were his crowning achievements but steps along the way to the final act, the big finish. And it typical Jobs fashion, even the grave couldn’t keep him from getting the job done.

Flying beneath the radar as much as anything Apple does can, a few things point at what might be a grander vision than we even thought. Last month Apple was awarded a patent for ad-skipping technology. It’s also been rumored that its long anticipated set-top box for television is closer to a reality than previously thought.

So Apple is getting involved with television. That’s the next disruption on the docket. Seems inevitable, but maybe there’s even more to be won than the disruption of a sixty billion dollar industry in the US. Maybe “hearts and minds” is more than a metaphor in this instance.

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

[Wired, February 1996]

“The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television.”

[Rolling Stone, Dec. 3, 2003]

 

“We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.”

[Macworld, February 2004]

 

Conspiracy, corrosive, dumb, in need of being shot…obviously, Jobs was not a fan of the ‘boob tube.’ While these quotes and references clearly predict Apple’s coming impact on TV, I think he’s also aiming for an even higher mark—our culture at large. Currently, the people are getting what they ask for, he reasoned, if only by asking for nothing at all. By just sitting there and soaking-in what’s pumped at us, we’re as complicit in our stupidification as the morbidly obese person scarfing Hot Pockets and Mr. Pibb hand over fist.  It’s omission versus commission, but the sin is just the same and more mortal than venial for Jobs. When you pay for nothing you should expect nothing and get nothing every time in the Book of Jobs.

I think this view of the landscape also moved him to move us to higher ground, the land of quality where the individual not only can choose what content to consume, but must choose. If that terrain was fruited with Apples, so much the better.

So, to hook us on the good stuff he’d have to first wean us off of the junk. Jobs’ television would have no mass ads, no more “low, low price” or “…lasts more than four hours seek medical attention immediately…”. Think the HBO model. You choose from a smaller edited selection of high quality stuff and you pay for it. By the episode. By the show. By the network. By the week. By the month. But we’ll all buy something by the something.

Why? Simple psychology.

When you pay for something you assign a value to it. Chances are you won’t sit there like a lumpy mouth-breather if you paid for a show. You’ll watch it more attentively than you would if it was just pumped into your living room like nitrous-oxide. That ups the pressure on content producers to create ever-higher caliber programming. There may be no second act otherwise. All boats rise as a result. “Consumers” become actual consumers, not victims. They call the shots and buy or not as so persuaded on the merit of the content itself, not the content’s PR man.

In my heart of hearts I think this was the grand plan all along. Jobs saw us going gently into that good night, led further and further down the path by a flickering signal that leads to nowhere– exactly where he thought we are now.

(Blank) as usual did not work for Jobs. Not politics. Not business. Not technology. Not media. Not sloth.

Of course he wanted to sell more Apple products, and killing television consumption, or putting a good dent in it anyway, was a key strategy in doing that. But I believe it was just that—strategy not objective. In typical Jobs style he not only thought different about it, he thought bigger.

 

And he thought how to do it with style and flair befitting Apple and Jobs himself.

 

The fact that his subversive campaign to kill campaigns began with a campaign (“1984”) is his most delicious bit of (social) engineering ever.

 



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