Sifting through all those Steve Jobs obituaries that popped out like mushrooms in a moist autumn forest, I stumbled upon one of his thoughts that went beyond the usual geeky Silicon Valley gossip. It’s from an interview he gave to Gary Wolf for Wired magazine.
“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.”
When the greatest Persuader in modern history says something like this, I think you should consider it true. And by “true” I mean Steve Jobs must have really believed in it. Part of the success of Apple was based on his remarkable ability to smell our desires from a far, even before these desires had the chance to surface in our own consciousness. It seems obvious in retrospective and there’s another quote, this time from his Inc. Entrepreneur of the Decade interview, where he states his credo rather laconically:
You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.
The secret of Apple’s success was that it treated customers like a TV audience. The rest of the computer industry was busy studying focus groups and having conversations with people, while Jobs realized this is counter-productive. He not only doubted people’s ability to correctly express their desires, he didn’t believe they were actually aware of them most of the time. In his mind, people needed a leader and he was more than willing to play this role, for better or worse.
This is not the reality we are accustomed to believe in. You don’t hear this story in school, in political speeches, even in advertising messages. Right the opposite, we are drowned in slogans which try to put an accent on our individual needs. We are led to believe we are always in control – when we cast a vote, when we buy something in the supermarket, when we choose how to entertain ourselves.
And this is precisely why when a young person gets suddenly confronted with this discrepancy between the actual reality and the empty statements, his sixth sense suggests some level of conspiracy. It really is an optimistic view because just like Jobs described it, in the conspiracy scenario the young person hasn’t lost his respect for humanity. He just assumes people are innocent victims of something bigger than themselves. Something external, which when defeated, will immediately withdraw its tentacles from their brains and suddenly they will all be liberated and become aware of their freedom.
Want a proof that’s bullshit? Log on to Facebook and ask how many of your friends have manually modified their privacy settings and how many of them know how their information is being used. Before you excuse 99% of your contacts saying they are not necessarily tech-savvy, keep in mind the Internet is flooded with information about privacy and how to tweak our social networks profiles to better maintain it. However, you will realize these things don’t seem to matter. For most people, convenience comes first.
And just in case you missed it, I will repeat it: Convenience comes first. It comes before health, it comes before money, and sometimes it comes before love. There seems to be some sort of mechanism in our brains that gives precedence to convenience in almost every common scenario. And it’s very important to ask ourselves is this mechanism part of our hardware or is it merely a software program that can be modified or uninstalled.
If your answer is “hardware” then I suppose you’re firmly in the Jobs camp. I like to believe it’s a software glitch. I have no hard proof whatsoever, I just think being optimistic is important.
Optimism is not only a characteristic of the young. It’s true people usually associate it with inexperienced minds, untouched by the intellectual fatigue of accumulated knowledge. At such a stage, it comes naturally and is intuitive. After that, it’s usually swiped under the carpet and replaced by the more “mature” pessimism – the mask you are expected to wear.
This is precisely why at this point, optimism becomes so vitally important. It actually becomes a matter of self respect. Because if you are unable to respect humanity on a global scale, you are equally unable to respect yourself. I know many pessimists who are openly demonstrating their mistrust in common people but none of them dares to treat himself this way.
Therefore, whatever’s flawed in our brains must be attributed to our software. Which brings me to the next question. How did it get there in the first place?
There are of course a myriad of conspiracy theories that will refer to New World Orders designed to keep us mentally, economically and even physically oppressed. Like this is something new!
There’s already an Old World Order that functions quite well and is obviously pretty good at maintaining the status quo. This order is crammed with different figures of authority, which are obeyed by the common members of society, voluntarily or not. It’s full of preachers, priests, pop stars, politicians, comic book superheroes and the like. This order is not something necessarily forced upon us, it’s a reflection of our internal, mental world.
This is the software that runs our societies. It’s not perfect and if we believe Nietzsche, it’s not even in beta stage. It doesn’t just need bug fixing, there is a whole chunk of the user interface that is totally missing, partially compensated by automated scripts that are designed to give precedence to things like convenience and dependence. At this alpha stage, the software is trained to externalize every problem that disrupts its functionality because an internal approach will result in even more sluggishness.
The good news is that there’s nobody to fix it except ourselves. We really don’t have anything to complain about, there’s work to be done and if humanity is destined to continue further, it will be done one way or another. What Nietzsche calls Superhuman is actually the mature human individual. An individual free of the restraints of religion, tradition, guilt and… convenience.