Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thoughts On Steve Jobs And Our Reaction To His Death. . . .


Last night while watching my beloved Phillies fizzle out, the Twitter-verse was going crazy with word that Steve Jobs had died. So massive and fast was the spreading of the news, that I wouldn't have been surprised if my Blackberry had blown up right there in my hand. I couldn't help but think about how much the world has changed in terms of information available, information shared, and information speed thanks to visionary and extremely gifted folks like Steve Jobs. In years past, news like this wasn't available until the next morning if - in fact - the AP or UPI had chosen to pick it up. What's normal speed to our young digital natives is still astounding to guys like me if we stop, remember, and think about it.

Any time someone we know or are familiar with dies, there is a gnawing inside of us. We somehow know that this is wrong, sad, and not the way it's supposed to be. Even the widespread tweets and Facebook posts that stated simply, R.I.P. Steve Jobs, point to our yearning for the universal flourishing void of disease and death that once existed and was known as "Shalom" . . . which is the peace so many want Steve Jobs to rest in. I'm not a Mac guy nor do I own an iPhone or iPod. My computer is a PC. My handheld is a Blackberry. My mp3 player is a seven-year-old Creative Zen. They all work fine for me and I've worked hard to not get sucked into the vortex of technology that leaves me desiring the latest and greatest in ways that waste my time and money. I know that's left me fairly "uncool" in some people's eyes, which I think says more about our culture than it does about me. Still, I don't think I'd be able to do what I'm doing in the way that I'm doing it if it hadn't been for the vision, creativity, and work of guys like Steve Jobs. That said, the outpouring in reaction to his death had me tossing and turning a bit overnight.

Most of the reaction I was following came from the world of youth ministry. That's where I've lived for the last 30-some years. Naturally, the tweets I saw came from all over the youth ministry world. I was seriously blown away by how widespread the response was. I saw it on Facebook too. I can't ever remember a more immediate and widespread response to the death of anyone. Granted, if all this stuff had existed when Mike Yaconelli died several years ago, I wouldn't have heard about it several hours after the fact through a phone call from my friends at Youth Specialties. This left me pondering not so much what Steve Jobs meant to people in my youth ministry world, but how much we've come to love and depend on the technology guys like Jobs created. Several weeks ago the church lost John Stott - a great theologian who has done more to directly and indirectly shape the faith of our youth ministry world than maybe any other theologian of the last 50 years. Judging from the traffic - or lack thereof - on Twitter and Facebook, Stott's passing was a small blip. . . especially when compared to the passing of Jobs. So I'm asking and wondering. . . do our reactions to both indicate what's more important to us in the church. . . technology/tools or the content of our message?

Some words from Marshall McCluhan are fresh on my mind as I've been looking at his 50 year-old "prophecies" on media and technology and what they do to us without us even knowing it. Consider these quotes from McCluhan that I shared with youth workers in San Diego last weekend in my Digital Kids seminar:

“Societies have been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”

“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the message.”

“We shape our tools and afterward our tools shape us.”


Steve Jobs' death is sad, very sad. But I'm wondering if there's something even more heartbreaking about our response to it and what it says about us. AP writer Pamela Simpson's piece this morning included these words: "Fans for whom the Apple brand became a near-religion grasped for comparisons to history's great innovators, as well as its celebrities, to honor the man they credit with putting 1,000 songs and the Internet in their pockets."

Have we been lulled into worshipping the tools and their makers? Thoughts?

16 comments:

Alvin Lau said...

Last night, with all the news articles and tributes coming in, a quote from the Toronto Star caught my attention: "A hundred years from now, when people talk about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Gates is going to be remembered for his philanthropy, not technology, said technology forecaster Paul Saffo." Makes me wonder if his legacy was really worth it and (possibly) has Gates chosen his legacy on something more eternally profound.

Dan Lambert said...

There's a difference between worshiping and admiring. I am not an Apple person (though I do have an iPhone), but I deeply admire the innovation, risk-taking, and inspiration Steve Jobs brought to the world. Too often we as Christians worship idols such as megachurch pastors, authors, musicians, athletes, etc. simply because they are famous and somehow authenticate our faith. I know nothing of Steve Jobs' faith, but I admired him because he inspires me to use all the creative gifts God has given me to make the world around me better. If we could inspire this generation of youth to impact the world the way Jobs has, and to do it for the glory of The Kingdom, then we will have really made an impact.

Collin Grant said...

You have me wondering what youth ministry would look like if we as it's leaders spent more time together thinking and talking about content and Gospel and a little less time talking about tech tools, cultural fads, and our favorite brewing companies.

MagooD said...

While those in ministry and well read Christians knew of Stott, the young digital natives... not so much. So no surprise that the digital footprint of his passing was a blip compared to Jobs.

I was an experienced technologist and had 14+ years with PCs and windows based networking when I bought my first Mac. Then I got one for my kid's and when that system aged I replaced it and gave the older one to my mother. Our family has purchased > 5 iPods and we have two iPhone users in the house. As a technologist, I can tell you that it all comes down to this simple fact - it's all engineered to just work and to work well together.

I'm a Steve Jobs admirer, not a worshiper. I've loved his products; not sure I could have worked for this very demanding genius. When I heard the news I did get a little emotional, but that had more to do with the fact that the same cancer (Pancreatic) also took my father.

Dave W.

Dan Moyle said...

You know, I'm right there with you. It is sad when someone dies, of course. But the instant grieving and bandwagon jumping got me thinking, too. I own an iPhone and and iPod, and I enjoy the convenience of both. I'm attached to my phone quite often. Part of that is work, but much of it is simply because I want to be attached. But the thought that our technology is becoming a religion; that's scary. Our mobile devices are held closer than our Bibles. Even with a Bible app, we're much more apt to open a different application over the Bible. It's something to definitely turn our attention to when it comes to today's youth. Thanks for putting it into words, Walt.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write about one more thing that is weighing heavy on my heart this morning. it’s the death of someone who I looked up to in an earthly sense for his accomplishments in this life. The more I think about the passing of Steve Jobs the more I think about the empire he built the empire we today call Apple. It’s interesting but I never took the time to think about the Apple logo it is an apple with a bite taken out of it. I don’t know if it has any subliminal message behind it that relates to the fall of man in the book of Genesis or not I do know that all apple products are tempting. I know this because I own an Iphone4 and I want an Iphone4s and a Mac and an IPod lol. Anyhow you can spend your whole life building something. You can baby it, and nurture it, and devote all you have to it. In the end the building up of anything is, as Solomon says vanity, if it’s no done for Gods legacy. Steve Jobs left behind so much for us as Christians to think about. For instance money does not guarantee life only God dose. No matter how rich or what your status is “the heart of the king is in the hands of the Lord” and that includes his physical life as well. This may be a hard pill to swallow, especially for someone who has lost a loved one. But for a Christian it simply is what it is. God is in control of all things. Another thing, Steve spent a vast majority of his life competing to be the best, striving for perfection. Just asks those who worked close to him they would say the same. By the age of 24 he was worth over 100 million dollars and he admits he got there by other people’s ideas that he stole and made better. There is no doubt that he was an innovator and one of the best. Today I have read so much about what if this was not invented, or if we had no “Apple”. I have a slight feeling that God might just have been able to manage without Steve Jobs or Apple. After all who do you think set things in motion for Steve to innovate the way he did? God gives us all Good things including our minds and talents we have. I am an apple man I love the products. I just want to learn from the passing of Steve jobs a great man a person who had a deep impact in our culture and who has left behind and will continue to leave behind a legacy. I want to learn something more than if you work hard and put your all into it you can be successful. I want to be a part of a generation of Christians that leaves a legacy of teaching our children about the difference between right and wrong good and evil and the everlasting seriousness of sin and its consequences that deceive and devastate. Leaving this world without knowing your Creator and giving Him the honor seems pointless even if we feel fulfilled as long as we accomplished some milestones. Friends the world tries so very hard to erase any sense of obligation or conviction that we have a disposition to rebel against God and to create on our own, our own legacy of self gratification and sense of satisfaction. Just look to the attitude of the early examples in the bible Adam and Eve, Cain, the tower of babble the list can go on and on. Oh Lord may I spend my time and energy, hard work ,and ambition serving man kind in such a way that my mark leaves no doubt in the mind of my children and those people who know me, Who God is and what he has done to transform me into a new man.

A “Legacy” that ends without acknowledging and knowing personally the very God who has made that legacy possible and who you are about to meet, is no legacy at all. The conclusion put best not in my own words but in the words of scripture.



“The end of the matter when all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of a man. For God will bring every deed into judgment with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Dennis said...

I think we looked to Steve Jobs as a leader, and not only in a technological sense. Youth ministers want to be innovative, creative, etc.

The reaction to his death is the reaction to the loss of creativity in the world. For many, he was more than a technology geek. He was an artist. I think that is what has impacted so many of us.

My thoughts on death turn to what will we be remembered for when we die. I think Jobs will be remembered for innovation and the creation of a culture, more than simply an inventor of gadgets.

Joseph said...

Walt, I share your uneasiness with the outpouring of "RIP Steve Jobs" and "We'll miss you!" tweets and Facebook updates. It just struck me that the huge, huge majority of people sending these tweets and updates couldn't possibly have known Jobs personally. So, in essence, what most of them are actually saying is, "RIP Steve Jobs. We'll miss your creative influence on the products we buy." And that is a much, much different sentiment from true sorrow at his death.

Eric Hayslett said...

First off I would like say that I sat through your "digital kids" seminar this weekend and it was excellent. I actually used alot of it in my lesson last night to my students and quoted you like crazy. I think they were convicted and ispired at the same time. So thanks for that.
Actually this is odd for me that this happened because I did not know who Jobs was until this weekend. I was with my youth pastor friends from our state (shout out to West Virgina)at the convention and they are all Mac guys. They have it all! And when I say all I mean all. Anyway, Not sure if you made it over to the mall near the convention center, but they have someting we do not have here in WV and thats an apple store. Well, we were going through it and they were showing me what all they do with their macbooks and iPads. From teaching thier lessons from them, to attendance records on certain apps, to great bible software, and even emergency forms used on them. I was captivated by it all. They had me hook, line, and sinker. I was ready to buy an iPad that day and save up for a macbook for the future. When I was getting ready to ask the salesman for an iPad I took a step back and gave one more thought. I noticed the 100+ poeple just in that store. I listened to my buddies saleing me on it. And I thought to myself "do I really want to get sucked into this, like this, so fast and dive right in checkbook in hand. So I rethought it. I totally say that we have made this a "god" in our lives. I wandered back to the cenvention only to walk into your workshop after lunch and its all I could think about. It Convicted me so much I wrote up a lesson on it for last night. I think as christians we need to watch out for the subtle idols we put in our lives everyday. And technology is a huge one. And I am not to say it is bad or evil. I still have a want (not a need) of having ipad, for the reason that it is a great tool. Though I am hesitant so that I do "not get sucked into the vortex of technology that leaves me desiring the latest and greatest in ways that waste my time and money." If some day I do decide to take that step. I will keep your guidelines you went over near to my thoughts. The First one being "turn it off on a regular basis."
Thx to you and bringing more awareness of this to me and youth ministry. Also, I bought your book The Space Between, and am pretty pumped about reading it!!

Anonymous said...

My initial reaction was meaningless, meaningless. However, I think it is ok to admire the innovation and creativity that he brought to our world and the way we do ministry. Whether Steve Jobs knew it or not, God used him to help us bring Kingdom into teens lives in innovative ways.

Mike McVey said...

Honestly, I was a bit sad to hear Jobs had died... a few weeks ago when I heard that he was stepping down from Apple. From what information that I have come across, that is when Jobs really died. His vessel happened to pass away yesterday.

At the same time, I was not very influenced by Stott. I have loads of respect for Stott, but our theological paths run more parallel with few intersects. Stott also is very limited in scope with the church world. It would be rare to find many in the denomination I participate to know who Stott is/was. I know this is true of a few other groupings who are not as reformed in tradition.

Jobs is fairly well known through almost all community of references across the earth. If people do indeed "worship" Jobs, it is because he created an image of "cool" for those who were more on the nerdy side initially. Then the "cool" image went far beyond and created a sense (I would say a false one) of belonging. And all it required was to own a piece of $60 technology to belong.

Belonging (even in a false sense) is what drives social media, so of course Jobs death is still reverberating through the internet.

As far as the comparison between Jobs and Stott, I do not think it is a fair one. Amy Winehouse had more reverberations than Stott and she was definitely less influential than Jobs and Stott respectively.

But I want to be careful of mourning the amount of status we want to attach to Stott. To cry about celebrity worship and then moan that Stott was not an equal in regards to celebrity is just as bad if not worse.

Let us respect the contributions that all bring to this world, especially those around us. Jobs, Stott, and even Winehouse have given avenues to share the gospel effectively to different groups of people.

clint said...

Walt… good thoughts. Thanks for asking the hard questions.

Dan… I agree with you, there is a difference between worshiping and admiring. Given that, Walt's point would still be valid and could be rephrased "How did youth workers acknowledge and show their admiration for John Stott when he passed?" Clearly the response to Jobs & lack thereof to Stott speaks to something going on that can include things like admiration, infatuation, worship, priorities, impact…

Walt, to answer your question… with some honest reflection I can see hints in my own life where I've allowed or found more joy & excitement about how I've communicated a spiritual truth and the tools I've used than the truth I've communicated. I'm thinking that in the world of youth work I'm not alone in this observation. Given our culture, I don't think it's a far stretch for it to happen to any of us. I need to be intentional and on guard to keep my attention on Jesus and not get distracted.

Walt Mueller said...

Mike McVey - I fully understand what you're saying. My point, however, is that if we would remove the men from what they stand for and what they've offered, we seem to be much more concerned about technology/gadgets/style, than we are theology/depth/substance. Does that make sense? The reactions to the men are indicative of something deeper.

Gareth said...

Walt I have never read your blog, but I linked here through a fellow youth pastor's link on Facebook. And honestly this blog annoyed me.

I think the timing of this is poor (he just passed away) and I think we should be celebrating what Jobs has done instead of beating ourselves up over how we use or abuse it, technology just like everything else can be and is abused.

As a worship/youth pastor the things that Jobs has created has allowed me to make worship more creative it has allowed me to explore new forms of worship I use the tools that he created extensively, do they shape our worship services? No Do they shape the content of our worship? No, they are tools that are utilized to bring us closer to God and bring the good news to people in many ways.

And the same goes for youth ministry. Do they change the message? No, do they allow me to see into kids lives day to day minute by minute like never before ?Yes Does it allow me to pray for my kids in real time as I hear about their struggles? Yes. Does it allow my ministry to extend into an ongoing conversation instead of a coffee date and a 10minute chat once a week? Yes.

I am sorry if I offended you it is not my intention, but God has given man the ability to create (whether that is technology, writing or fine art) they are all equal in God's eyes and we as christians should be giving the best of what we have to God, and we should be saddened at the loss of one of the most innovative, visionary leaders of our time. Yes John Stott changed the theological landscape, but how do we measure how Job's tools have influenced lives? Apparently it was pretty significant. Jobs tools may have even caused people to follow Jesus.

Sara said...

Steve Jobs proclaimed to be a Buddhist. He may have done a lot of creating, but did he know the Creator? I can't be the judge of that. However, when I heard of his passing, I thought: those men who accomplish the greatest things in this life, are those who do so for the next. I would much rather celebrate the life of someone like Stott because I know that while he was here, he lived with eternity in mind and wanted others to know Christ. And that is leaving a TRUE legacy.

Pastor Matt said...

Well said. You and Mike Wittmer have said what I wanted to say and failed to do with my own post. Blessings,