Jobs was a manufacturer, and salesman, of love

October 6, 2011

By Jonathan Weber
The views expressed are his own.

One day in 1991, when I was working as the Silicon Valley correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, I picked up the phone at my girlfriend’s apartment and was greeted by a soft, friendly voice: “Hey Jonathan, it’s Steve. Steve Jobs.” He wanted something from me — I don’t remember what — and he couldn’t have been nicer.

The next time I saw him, a few weeks later, he no longer needed something, and he couldn’t have been more unpleasant. I found his arrogance, and especially his skills as a master manipulator, to be very off-putting, and it took me a while to realize that to pay attention to these aspects of his personality was to completely miss the point about his brilliance.

Technology, for most people, is often experienced as a cold and distant thing, inhuman in every sense. Jobs, uniquely, brought heat and emotion to the technology world; he proved to be the one and only person who could create technology products that people love. His persona, in all its complexities, was entirely in the service of that. No one spontaneously lays wreaths and burns candles at the death of a businessman, except when it’s the exceedingly rare one that has actually touched their hearts.

Love is definitely the right word. Jobs’ product announcements were always been akin to revival meetings, with his disciples cheering every gesture, every word. If you stop someone on the street — me, even — and ask them how they like their iPhone, they’re likely to gush “I love it.” The iPad, a $500 item no one desperately needs, sold more than 9 million units in the second quarter; in the consumer products business, that’s love.

The downside of love is that its emotional power can be dangerous. Jobs is famous for his “reality distortion field,” the super-salesman’s ability to convince you of something that, when you take a step back, simply isn’t true.

Love can have that effect too, if you think about it. And in a business environment, that can be a strange thing.

Jobs actually learned that lesson early on, when, shortly before being pushed out of the company he founded, he raised a pirate flag over the Macintosh division at Apple to signal his contempt for the corporate bosses. He and his followers loved the Macintosh, and what it could be (the first personal computer for the rest of us) — and that passion landed them on the street.

Jobs was ultimately able to harness those emotions to create an extraordinarily innovative and effective organization, even as he persuaded swooning customers to buy lots of his products. But it does point to the immense challenges facing a post-Jobs Apple. “Apple is a cult, not a company,” one frustrated former CEO told me many years ago. “It’s always been that way.”

Yet Jobs’ most impressive achievement was to spread the love – beyond the company insiders and committed cult followers who would stick with Apple products no matter what. The biggest test of his legacy will be whether his successors can instill the same passion, both inside and outside the company. Meanwhile, as we mourn his death, we can only say, we love you Steve, for everything you’ve given us.

This essay is adapted from one that appeared in the Bay Citizen when Jobs resigned his CEO position in August.

PHOTO: A tribute message to the late Steve Jobs written in lipstick is seen on the window of the Apple Store in Santa Monica, California October 5, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

If you’re addicted to technology and always have to have the latest gadget, then Jobs is your hero. He’s your Reverend Tilton – your T.V. preacher that fascinates and that feeds and facilitates your desire to substitute things of real consequence, like real relationships with people, for things of pretend-substance, like pseudo-relationships with all your gadgets.

Jobs is the Pied Piper of today’s tech-addicted generation.

I don’t associate with such types – they’re generally completely devoid of social skills, enormously self-centered and self-absorbed, and have no real appreciation for the finer things in life and the things you can’t put a price tag on. They’re barely human.

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive

Hey NukerDoggie, did you mail written comments to Reuters for posting? Ha. Get over yourself.

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

Nullcorp – I USE technology as a tool, I don’t SLAVE for it as you obviously do. There’s a fundamental difference.

How do you treat any addiction? You have to achieve a balanced perspective, because addiction warps one’s perspective of life. The addict can’t imagine his life being happy and rewarding absent the object of his addiction. Addicts don’t like it when someone challenges their warped perspective on life. Get over YOURself, Nullcorp. The fact you’re upset at my comments reveals a lot about you.

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive

Steve Jobs was a visionary. There’s no denying that he had a unique intuition and talent that few men can aspire, or even relate to. I, myself, being 59 yrs old, are not among the high-tech, ‘must-haves’, who benefit so much from these new technologies every day. Of course, I understand the value of such advancements, but my usage is limited by choice. Nonetheless, it’s very obvious to me that Steve Jobs blazed an incredible trail during his professional life, and he will always be remembered for changing the way the world communicates. How can you not respect his man for his amazing accomplishments?!

Posted by gay_cowboy17 | Report as abusive

There are a lot of working girls (and boys) who could claim the same thing if they had a catchy logo instead of abusive pimps.

Manufacturers of love have been around for a lot longer than Apple. “Love” and a variety of other themes have been the stuff of advertising since the industry began. Baby powder was a big “love” product and probably still is. And I know one can “heart” NYC.

Come on – the man manufactured a device and the writer is getting a little carried away.

Nobody ever accused Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, or even AG Bell of manufacturing “Love”. Maybe everyone had more sense back then?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Steve Jobs was an @ss. A brilliant one no doubt, but an @ss just the same. The writter of this column met him and recognized him for who and what he was, then went to his constructs for a different opinion. Guess that’s why he’s such a darling of the left. Because it’s stupid. He was a hateful, bullying, manipulative miser. Qualities I’ve never been attracted to. You guys like that sort of thing, eh?

Posted by Jeffrey7112 | Report as abusive