Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Steve Jobs Destroyed the Music Business

When, in 2011, I bought the iMac on which I’m writing this, I noted with amazed delight that even the protective Styrofoam in which it had been shipped was beautifully designed. I suspect that even those who deplore Apple’s dodgy ethics will agree that their products are gorgeous, apparently because of Steve Jobs’ refined aesthetic sense.

How Steve Jobs could have been so obsessed with the beauty of his company’s products and yet look so ghastly as he unveiled them, invariably in the black mock turtleneck sweater, dad jeans, and New Balance running shoes, or, if you’re a Brit, trainers, that he wore every day? Why did his refined aesthetic sense suddenly desert him when he went clothes-shopping? If you’re not going to get a bit tarted up to unveil a world-changing new product to an auditoriumful of persons who regard you as God Jr., when are you going to get a bit tarted up?

Of course, his being glamorous and stylish at MacWorld, the big convention at which he customarily made his big unveilings, would very much have been a pearls-before-swine situation, as his audiences consisted almost entirely of men, with their bellies, ponytails, and smugness,  whose idol seems to be The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy. They were like grown-up versions of your high school’s Calculus Club. There were only slightly more women in these audiences than have been elected POTUS.

One year the German software and graphical interface designer Kai Krause, of Kai’s Power Tools, made an appearance. He didn’t wear dad jeans, had a rock star’s coiffure, and was greeted approximately as Mick Jagger might have been. Mr. Jobs, who is known to have asked colleagues if women he proposed to date were attractive enough to reinforce his stature as a hotshot, apparently wasn’t there to observe it. When Kai spoke of having some inconceivable amount of RAM in his computer —  16MB, if memory serves — a reverent hush fell on the room.

You probably avoided the Calculus Club types in high school, and would have found them no less distasteful at MacWorld, once they’d brayed and bellowed their enthusiasm for whatever Steve had just unveiled, and then been let loose among the wonderful exhibitions. Behold the power of the free T-shirt (invariably in one size: XL). To get the Calculus Club types’ rapt attention, an exhibitor needed only toss one to them every now and again. They were hungry tigers, and the shirts raw meat.

At the last MacWorld I attended, in around 1998, one company had half a dozen nubile young women in gleaming latex catsuits of different bright colours handing out floppy disks, at a time when there was still such a thing as a floppy disk. I don’t remember exactly what…solution the floppies extolled, but I do vividly remember circling around the exhibition hall to collect a great many of them.

One of my support staff has just found on line a blog suggesting that Steve Jobs wore the same ghastly outfit every day to forfend something the blogger calls Decision Fatigue. So many tortuous, world-changing choices had to be made in his office that he didn’t want to squander energy on deciding on an outfit. Microsoft Word will not hear of one not capitalising Styrofoam, and I miss Kai's Power Tools. 

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