Monday, January 30, 2012

The iEconomy: (More) Thoughts on "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson [Updated]

Below (after the jump) you can find my original post from a week ago with a quick review of Walter Isaacson's bio "Steve Jobs."

[For a little back-and-forth in the (digital) pages of the Times on Isaacson's book and on the "biographer's dilemma" go here (Nocera, Maslin, Isaacson, & a Q&A with Isaacson). Here's also a little lagniappe for my Spanish language readers: a friend in Cuba graciously translated it (not the book but my review of it) into Spanish here.]


Now the update: Over the weekend I managed to catch up on some old, yellowing copies of the New York Times from the past few weeks and discovered that the newspaper of record has dug deep and really outdone itself with a hard-hitting, long-form, investigative two-part (so far) series entitled, "The iEconomy," which focuses on the common practice of tech companies outsourcing electronic work to Chinese factories.

The series takes direct aim at Apple and its relationship with the massive Chinese contractor Foxconn, and the effect is powerful.

Part one, published on Sunday, January 22, is entitled: "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work."

Part two, published on Thursday, January 26, is entitled: "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad."

Each article also includes some great interactive multimedia video on The iPhone Economy and the related shift away from manufacturing in the U.S. as well as Made in China and Compliance by the Numbers.  There are also a number of other, related stories in the Times including a fascinating section were we can read the (translated) reactions and comments of Chinese readers to the series and the results from a poll in the U.S. that shows consumer confusion over where Apple makes its products.

Finally, starting up again tomorrow, the prankster and searing monologist Mike Daisey will begin his second run (back-by-popular-demand) of his one-man-show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," at New York's Public Theater (I've already got tickets for Thursday night! - see here and here for reviews).

A long-time worshiper at the iTemple of Apple, Daisey recently changed his stripes (after a visit to some Chinese Apple/Foxconn factories) and published this op-ed article in the Times the day after Steve Jobs died back in October.

If you can't make it to New York for Daisey's run at the Public, Ira Glass and his friends at This American Life have collaborated with Daisey, engineering a one hour radio version of his monologue for broadcast, called cheekily: "Willy Wonk..., no, I mean, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory."  The episode first aired on January 6 and after just one week it became the most downloaded in TAL history. (I guess Daisey and Glass also benefit from the popularity of the iPhone).

For what it's worth, here's what's showing these days on the Apple homepage.

I just finished Walter Isaacson's bio of Steve Jobs.

Here are some of my thoughts:

It's both a wonderfully sympathetic and human, as well as brutally honest, warts-and-all portrait of the life and career of a complicated, prickly, and revolutionary artist, artisan, and entrepreneur and the amazing company he co-founded and later saved and completely reinvented: Apple.

Jobs was a royal asshole and a magical genius.

He sought to plant deep and bring to harvest beautiful products at the fertile intersection of the humanities and sciences, poetry and technology, refusing to let function (a device's insides) dictate its form (its outsides). However, his products almost always achieved the best of both function and form.

He valued intuition over logic, instinct over focus groups, and lived as if the normal rules didn't apply to him, creating his own arrogant but often quite boundary-bursting "reality distortion feld."

He read "The Autobiography of a Yogi" as a teenager and re-read it again every year afterwards. His favorite artist-musician was Bob Dylan - a master rebel of reinvention himself - and among his favorite lyrics and rules to live by, driving his innovation and perfectionism was:

"If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying."

He also created a closed, integrated system and unique, magical user experience with far and away the best products (Apple, Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iCloud, ...), reinventing the music, publishing, animation, and telecom industries in the process (to say nothing of the computer industry itself).

At the same time, his almost pathological need to control every aspect of a product and make the user experience as "perfect" and "zen" as possible put him at risk of becoming the very Orwellian big brother of "1984" vilified in the famous Apple "1984" ad in 1984 because he didn't want other companies to "fuck up" his artistry.

The first computer I ever used was an Apple IIe in 1983/84 in our little computer lab at St. Paul's School in Pensacola Florida. I became an IBM/PC man after that for more than 25 years mostly due to price and the fact that Microsoft came to dominate/monopolize PC operating systems through Windows.

I resisted the iPod craze in the early 2000s thinking (stupidly it turned out) that my trusty Sony Walkman cassette player/AM-FM radio did essentially the same thing. Believe it or not, soon after I moved to NYC in 2003, I bought a new Walkman at Circuit City (remember that store?) and happily used it playing my old tapes from the 80s the few times I actually went jogging. (Thinking back, I'm astounded that they were even still selling Walkmans then).

It now sits in a drawer gathering dust (along with Circuit City itself). It turns out that batteries and cassettes are so last century! Hell, even CDs are even now all but obsolete.

A year-and-a-half ago I bought my first MacBook Pro laptop and Apple (those bastards!) threw in a free iPod Touch (after a $200 mail in rebate). I guess they had to get rid of old inventory with the iPhone cannibalizing the Touch.

Though I had a Blackberry at the time that I really liked (and which had itself already supplanted my Walkman as my listening post), I sensed immediately as I began to fiddle around with the Touch (especially in a wi-fi zone) that the Blackberry's days were numbered and that I'd soon be replacing it with an iPhone.

Long story short: Today both my Blackberry and iPod Touch are in the hands of friends of mine in Cuba and I'm figuring out how I can get someone to bring my old Dell laptop down there too.

Today is also my my iPhone G4's first birthday.

And one more thing...

Full disclosure: I wrote this post on my iPhone and posted it directly on my blog via e-mail.

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