Another look at Steve Jobs
by Rob Rector
I have had a love/hate relationship with Apple. I have embraced many of their inventions (I still have the first-generation iPad around the house, as well as a water-damaged iPod Nano, for some strange reason). In fact, I wrote this article on a MacBook Air, which I find one of the best laptops out there.
In contrast, I have also banished my iPhone, vowing to not return anytime in the near future, and I chuckle at the iWatch and the annual “update” parades that tout each new feature as if they will alter the Earth’s gravitational pull.
I mention all this to give context that I am not a devotee to the Cult of Mac, but merely an occasional sideline admirer of the company’s innovation. As the co-founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs was usually the one to deliver us such innovation, so he was credited with much of its success, exalted as a technological genius and grieved for like a saint when he died from cancer in 2011.
But for those who have read anything on the man’s personal life and behavior, they will realize that his genius was more in business savvy and self-preservation than his tinkering with electronics. He was, for the most part, known as a monster by those closest to him.
Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney was curious as to the outpouring of sadness and decided to make him the subject of his latest film “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” While there are no new revelations that have not already been reported, it’s the way Gibney packages it in such a slick, stylish, attractive fashion that makes this documentary so enticing — much like the products that Apple itself produces.
The documentary, which is available for online streaming on Google Play, Vudu, on Demand and — ironically — on iTunes, is perhaps a great primer for the upcoming critically acclaimed drama from Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs, as well as Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels (out October 9).
The film’s first half is devoted to Jobs’ youth and the relationship with buddy Steve “Woz” Wozniak, who designed for Atari. They were handsomely compensated for their efforts, but Woz was unaware of the money, as Jobs lied and told him they made only a modest amount for their work. This was the first real glimpse we get into Jobs’ winner-takes-all mentality within the business.
It’s a character trait those of us in the working world are quite familiar with. Perhaps you work alongside one, perhaps you work for one — but Jobs is the type of individual who cared not about people (evidenced by his strained relationship and paternal denial of his first-born daughter), but about rising to the top at all costs, human relationships, be damned. He was not one known for his philanthropic efforts, like Bill Gates, who donated billions back to various causes, and he is seen chastising his many employees who dare challenge his ultimate goal.
But Gibney does not deny his brilliance, either. The irony was that as seemingly devoid of compassion as he was for his friends, family and coworkers, he had acute sensibilities when it came to delivering products that felt personal and intimate. The director is clear that Jobs is a walking paradox. And while Gibney drags matters out longer than necessary (clocking in at more than two hours, the film pins some tangential wrongdoings that are merely industry practice and not necessarily the direct fault of Jobs), he still manages to give us a thorough peek at the circuit board that drove Jobs and shines light on the complex wiring that powered him.