OFF THE GRID

Steve Jobs Can’t Save Us

Jan 27, 10 | 6:43 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Steve Jobs, who will be celebrated everywhere today for the great farsightedness of his tablet, is, curiously, an old fart.

He’s a guy who loves his machines. He’s a tinkerer. A guy who’s most at home in a hardware store—which is really what an Apple store is, just souped up and redecorated.

He’s also, in the way of old guys, an authoritarian. He wants to be stubbornly in control (even when that’s not possible). Indeed, one might fairly conclude from any interaction in an Apple store, that he is, too, rather a totalitarian—Orwellianly so. That old ad, Apple’s 1984 attack on IBM, is, in hindsight, about itself—it’s Jobs and Apple who have megalomaniacal dreams of creating machines that control the world.

Jobs has stubbornly—or fetishistically—bucked the most fundamental trends in technology and information, that the future is not hardware (it hasn’t been for three generations), it’s software.

Today’s announcement of a new device is yet another effort to apply the added value of Steve’s fetishism to a consumer electronic product. The simplicity of that business model is somewhat obscured by Job’s crafty plan to couple his new machine to lots of old media products. Or, really, the smoke here is that lots of old media types, hoping that Jobs’ device will save their business—as though old media’s problem is just that it needed a different computer—are now proclaiming Jobs, once again, as the man who understands it all.

This is nonsense. From the beginning, Steve has only ever understood his own interests. His success comes from his tenacious application of his view that a nifty machine, however unnecessary, is, well, nifty. But this view has nothing to do with the changing world. The Internet—hardware agnostic if not averse—is a parallel world to Apple’s, which the company only ever makes concessions to (as few as possible).

Anyway, old media guys think Steve is going to save them. I doubt Steve thinks this. From the Apple point of view, offering old media a new platform provides a pretext for a machine that gets Apple into a market which, if Apple isn’t careful, the Kindle could own. What’s more, because old media wants to suck up to Apple, it’s once more giving Steve great publicity for his new machine.

This will fade as soon as Apple starts insisting on its Orwellian and Draconian deals (Apple’s inevitable strong-arm tactics will represent one more example of old media guys’ pathological obtuseness). But, meanwhile, Jobs will have designed another nifty machine, which will neither advance the cause of new media or old, but that will make him—and the boy in all of us—very happy.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.

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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.