Week In News: Visionary Steve Jobs Dies

Oct 8, 2011
Originally published on October 8, 2011 4:33 pm
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ROBERT SMITH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

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SMITH: The voice of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, sounding so young there from a 1994 interview on this program. He died this past week at the age of 56. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays, for a look behind the headlines. Hey, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Robert.

SMITH: Steve Jobs there was talking about history. And as you know, there are sort of the two great theories of history. There's the great man theory, that's remarkable men and women who shape the course of human events, and then there's the other part of history, the broad social forces that change the world. So all this talk about Steve Jobs has got me thinking about this because it really centers on the great man theory of business, that we wouldn't have seen all this innovation without him. So what do you think? Was there something else going on here?

FALLOWS: I think like so many aspects of life, both of the explanations are true. It certainly is the case that without the government-funded research over the past 60 years that helped build the semi-conductor industry and then the computer industry and then the Internet, without the teams of people, Steve Jobs and originally Steve Wozniak were able to work with in California, without the huge diaspora of production in China and other places that have made these Apple products, Steve Jobs himself would not have had the effect he did.

But I think that it's impossible to ignore the personal influence he had. Of all the various companies in Silicon Valley, Apple has been the one that's been most markedly affected by one single personality. Certainly, Microsoft bore the stamp of Bill Gates in his early years, but he's moved on to a different generation. And so Steve Jobs' insistence on design as opposed to sheer function, his perfectionism in various ways, the things which made him both influential or often resented by people who had to deal with him and give way to his will, I think that it couldn't have happened without all the other people that he dealt with. But the company would have been very different and so were the technology world without this particular man.

SMITH: This week, every media organization, NPR included, went whole hog on the coverage of Occupy Wall Street. And a number of members of the traditional left, the unions and liberal intellectuals, started to jump on board this movement. And there's clearly a lot of passion out in the park. I've been there, off of Wall Street, but what do traditional policy wonks, you know, who love details, who love plans, what do they see in this group that they don't have in themselves, I guess?

FALLOWS: I assume you're putting me in a traditional policy wonk category, and I'll wear that hat for a moment. I think that one way of looking at this movement over the past month or so is to ask and pause a moment, well, what exactly are they asking for, et cetera, et cetera. If you go down that road, you can, as many initial news reports did, say, well, this isn't leading any place. But I think if you look at social and economic history, in a way, it's surprising that this movement has not happened before now.

I was looking at figures recently, compared to about 25 years ago, the U.S. as a whole is about twice as rich. But in that time, the median family income has been flat or slightly gone down. And so you would expect at a time when unemployment is such a problem and when the financial industry itself has been so much the object of government help in the past couple of years, in a way, it's surprising this didn't happen sooner.

SMITH: Perhaps for the final time we should discuss Sarah Palin. This week, she announced that she would not be running for president. What a strange three years it's been. She has obsessed the media for three years and ends with sort of a whimper. And I'm left thinking, what happened? What was that all about?

FALLOWS: You know, one way, her past three years makes perfect sense, which is that by my estimation, the very best job you have in America is that of potential presidential candidate. Everybody flatters you, everybody pays attention to you, but you don't have to do all the terrible things that a real presidential candidate has to do. And I think now she may go to the second best job, which is being some kind of a pop reality show/talk show/lecturing circuit well-paid figure.

SMITH: Oh, this wasn't a reality show, the last three years?

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FALLOWS: It was reality show plus.

SMITH: James Fallows is a national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.the atlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.