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Steve Jobs and Plastic

Where are we going?

I’ve been puzzled about something and it’s taken me about a week to be able to translate the swirl of seeming disconnected conclusions into a written sequence that will make sense. Just looking at what I just wrote is, well, not like me. I hope that what you read here will make sense. These musings come from a deep sense of knowing that I have come face to face with something that has become full blown. Something I don’t like. But something that seems to be widely accepted. And it just doesn’t give any semblance of peace.

When I was in high school, I joined with other peers and complained that our parents were engaging in “plastic” rather than reality. I joined peers because, I have to admit, I felt distanced from my parents. But, many teenagers do go through that phase. But, funny, I remember that sense of detachment keenly and I am suddenly remembering this phrase after many years, say about 45, without ever having thought about it since that time. Why?

When times like this puzzle me and I am pondering and pondering, the Lord gives me an answer in the most interesting ways. Yesterday, I happened to see a couple of dvds about Steve Jobs in the library. I knew I just had to view his biography and what others said about him. What insight they offered! I was able to connect the disconnect that I felt so many years ago. I believe it is this: the preference of an impersonal screen. Does that make any sense? Sound ridiculous? Hear me out. (And I’m sure there will be some of you that will disagree with some, much, or all of my ponderings and conclusions, but that will be ok.)

I’ve said it before. I’ve “shared” other people’s point of view on this. It’s a huge, deeply sad conclusion about how we relate in our modern world. Here goes: Computers have created a couple of generations that find safety in hiding behind texts and email, substituting addictive games and worlds for heart to heart relationships. Businesses and large companies create amazing websites, offer pretty fliers explaining things to both clients and employees. They have promises to clients and series of online training for employees. All these ways and means are not bad in themselves, but what I have observed and been a victim of (for lack of a better way to describe this) people substituting a semi-fantasy world of “only a screen or text” in place of really knowing me. Instead of it being an answer to our fast paced world, it’s becoming a disaster which I believe is only going to grow worse.

I recently experienced something I have never encountered before. I had to come to the conclusion that, in the workplace, it’s easy to not return a call, not acknowledge an email, or a text when you have never met that person. It’s easy to substitute the task that must get done in favor of offering help to whomever is asking. There’s no time or room for developing care for a person who is actually in the real world doing the real work. Sadly, seeing a task being accomplished or a number on a chart being met was far more important, putting personal relationship aside. I can only come up with one word to describe what I experienced: dehumanization.

So what does Steve Jobs have to do with all of this. You may have been a fan of his. You may admire him. This isn’t anything against the man, Steve Jobs. But it is about the culture that emanated from him and you may as well throw in Bill Gates too. Their personalities were different but people said the same things about them both. They will romance you if they need you, use you while they can, and when they are finished with you, you no longer exist for them. Harsh. I know. But I’m not the one who said it. What I would like to narrow this whole odd pondering down to is to show the root of the new culture of preferring accomplishment via a screen rather than relating to each other in kind and helpful ways.

I watched an interview that had a camera focused on Job’s face the entire interview that lasted about an hour. His face showed no change, whether funny, sad, or thoughtful. The motions were sometimes there. But his face was still. Controlled. But the eyes were intense. I knew something was behind the stoneface. I knew something was going to be revealed about why he thought the way he thought. Finally the answer came two ways.

First, he described his belief, and experience, that when several genius minds get together, they clash and fight and, finally, it all settles down and fits together. He likened it to rocks in a tumbling drum-an observation that had made a huge impression on him when he was a young teen. How can that be wrong? It’s the exact opposite of how faith is worked out among Christians. We aren’t to fight, scuttle with each other and fight some more and then something good comes out of it. He wasn’t talking about the conflicts helping each other’s character but he was excited about coming up with genius solutions. People don’t count here. Only solutions. I could see that, because of his conclusion about this story that his core beliefs were coming from a different philosophy than mine-which happens to be Christianity.

So, from what philosophy did Steve Jobs understand life? Zen. How it all works together. In short, Eastern religion was how he trained his mind to see things. Yes, it makes a difference in how you are to relate. For him, people were the means to accomplish what he wanted to see happen. He had a view that is upside down from my views. He said he believed a computer would be a great tool for mankind. He said those words. That’s great. But he didn’t live those words as we think about real people who have real feelings and real lives. Instead, he mowed over countless people to accomplish his vision.  He never seemed to think that perhaps there could be a better way to accomplish the incredible things he did achieve. Things like, encouragement. Preferring others above ourselves. Serving those who work for you, passing a baton so to speak. Instead, hands down, he was reported to be a chief user of people.

Why would I be pondering all this? I recently left a job that I believed was wonderful. I ended up leaving because after I was hired I became a non-person, a means to accomplish a humongous task. I loved the work so much that I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought things would get better. But, I’ve never experienced being ignored at the level I was being ignored But. I had access to a great website that was full of information, professional emails were being sent, rah-rah “personal” group emails sent to encourage us to get out there and do even better. But personal phone calls, texts, and emails of requests concerning the real world of retail would not be acknowledged or, if they were, the content had clearly not been read, messages not listened to. It made me feel really weird. And FRUSTRATED. And they all seemed to be nice people.

I had to come to believe that this has come to be an acceptable culture within our culture. If I couldn’t relate to the screen and needed a real, live person, then I had to conclude that the company was not for me. And they didn’t care that I left in spite of my almost perfect performance score. There are plenty out there that will do the non-relate stuff and get the jobs done. And that’s a real shame. Are we headed to a world of a screen coming between us and the other person? It won’t be the person that counts, but whatever vision that’s on the screen- that is what will be more important.

Do I think computers are a source of evil? No. But, somehow, the philosophy that I have connected to Steve Jobs has infiltrated right into a generation of young people who are finding it difficult to connect heart to heart. I’ve heard this disconnection blamed on absent fathers. That can be true, but we need to consider the addictive draw into a world of escape, whether the father is in the household or not. And yes, screen addiction can lead to an adult that cannot let the “childish” things go and remain in that fantasy land where people are dispensable.

Has our parent’s “plastic” multiplied and become people who are controlled by computer chips and the world wide web?  Two generations later, has “plastic” become a way of life? Plastic doesn’t have to relate to anyone but it can accomplish some amazing things. But for what? What will it matter when we face death?

If we could use computers and all that is related to it, as merely a tool, as Steve Jobs said it was, then computers are an amazing dream come true. But if it becomes a substitution for relationships with real people, it becomes a nightmare. What you do with it depends on you. Not just what you think or agree to, but what you do to make sure you keep a proper perspective.

 

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