Why Wouldn’t We Care As Much If Bill Gates Had Died?

Sadness is probably the most fortified of our emotions. So my point here is not to adjust it in anyone. Like many, I was somewhat surprised by how Steve Jobs’ passing moved me. Yet, considering this country’s current mood towards powerful CEO’s, I did find the general outpouring a little strange. I don’t say this to tear down Steve Jobs, disrespect those who knew him or even make a statement about business ethics. I’m just pointing out that while we’re occupying Wall Street, we’re also holding iPhone vigils.

One of Jobs’ first moves as CEO of Apple (the second time) was to abolish Apple’s charity programs. Even when he died, with a net worth of about $8 billion, he was still known for being tight-fisted. Then COO, now CEO, Tim Cook made over $59 million in 2010 and much of Apple’s senior management makes well over $10 million just in salary. Apple is the world’s richest company that doesn’t deal oil, and I don’t have to tell you that its products are slightly, shall we say, expensive. In any other industry, Apple and Jobs would be skewered for these practices.

To think of it another way, would we have shown such an outpouring for Jeff Bezos of Amazon or even Bill Gates. Obviously not. Bezos founded and navigated Amazon with the same steady ruthless vision everyone loved Jobs for. Gates has impacted – granted, arguably – the modern computing world as much as Jobs. Except image-wise, Gates sat in the front of the classroom, Jobs sat in the back.

In Steve Jobs’ own word’s, his “devices don’t change the world.” Yet Gates has set up one of the largest foundations in history whose stated goal is to do just that. And seems to be. Do we care less about Gates simply because his devices aren’t “cool” – and infuriate us sometimes?

Again, I’m not trying to adjust anyone’s sadness – just put it in perspective. Except for a couple of very touching stories, I honestly couldn’t put my finger on a pulse of the grief other than, “The guy who made my ridiculously slick phone/music player/computer just died.” If Jobs had ridden around the world tossing them out in town squares, this would make a little more sense. But you paid for that sucker. In fact, compared to their competitors, you really paid for that sucker. By most accounts, Jobs “wasn’t in it for the money” and by just eyeballing the guy, I believe that; he didn’t prance around on yachts or buy islands. But Apple shareholders sure were and the sole job of any CEO in America is to increase the company’s stock price. That’s why the board brought him back in. They knew he could do it. Call it vision, call it inspiration, call it dogged determination, Steve Jobs did that job better than any in history. But for all our capitalist leanings, that’s never been a reason to publicly mourn someone.

My first computer was a Apple IIGS. I practically had my first iPod installed in my eardrum. I’m going to get an iPhone 4S. I type this on a MacBook. I love Apple devices and I loved and was awe-struck by the way Jobs methodically changed computing. But yesterday, I finally had to stand back and ask myself whether if perhaps, almost unconsciously, the greatest product Steve Jobs ever marketed was himself.

11 Responses to Why Wouldn’t We Care As Much If Bill Gates Had Died?

  1. Shari Wescott says:

    I believe the overwhelming outpouring of surprise and sadness of Steve Job’s death is because of the way we are so emotionally attached to the elegance of our Apple purchases. In terms of cost/benefit, we might get much more joy from our expensive Apple products than from others that are surely just as utilitarian. There is a sense of, “Oh my gosh, am I going to love future Apple products as much as I have loved the ones I now own.” So, as always it is the self-centeredness of our human nature that makes the world react so strongly to his death. I too will be buying the iPhone 4S–but not until I qualify for the reduced price. I am a bit practical.

  2. Brennan says:

    Very interesting points. When I think about reasons for the jobslove (one word), the only thing I can think of is that human’s hold a very special place in their hearts for art and artists (it’s interesting to think about why this is, but that is probably another full essay).

    Take a comparison of two men in similar eras, Van Gough and Edison. Edison hugely changed the way people lived during his lifetime, his inventions still change the way we live today. Did Van Gough even have .1% of that impact Edison did? However Van Gough will probably get more remembrances on the anniversary of his death than Edison will.

    You can argue whether Steve Jobs was in fact an artist, but I think he thought of himself as an artist in some ways, and lovers of his products did too. Comparatively, no matter how many malaria nets are used in africa, or schools built in low income areas, no one will ever think Bill Gates is an artist.

    • CQG says:

      Totally agree and a really good point. The Edison/Van Gough analogy is perfect. Something about artistry breeds affection – though the roots of it are still unclear.

    • StevieJobs says:

      Good artists, copy; great artists steal. He lived by that motto. He said those words. He set the example. And now we have more of them, stealing and stealing.

  3. Lea Horn says:

    HI,Caleb–your well thought out essay on Jobs is really a good, thought-provoking read. The general media can not praise him enough– with enough prose to choke a horse. I think we also forget that he used his influence and money to jump ahead of the line in receiving a precious liver transplant. But, we still admire him and personally feel impacted by his death, your old auntie included! I think he had the energy and vision and black t-necks that no other CEO has shown us. We all love a leader!!

  4. Thought this was an awesome post, very well-written and thought-provoking. You make some comparisons to Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, and I think an even greater contrast can be found between Jobs and Dennis Ritchie, who died just a few days later.
    Harry Lewis, who teaches one of my CS classes and is a well-known and well-connected guy in the CS world (taught Bill Gates, which is crazy to think about), wasn’t going to talk on Jobs at all until a student asked him during lecture. When pressed he said he thought the outpouring was unusual too, and said from experience many of his students who went to work for apple hated working for Jobs, just as a reminder that he wasn’t perfect and we should be admitting both sides of the thing. When Dennis Ritchie died a few days later, two of my CS teachers including Lewis talked about him for a few minutes. Harry Lewis had a great line that “Ritchie had a lot more to do with the Mac OS than Steve Jobs did”, even though most people don’t even know who Ritchie is. It’s interesting how sometimes impact and fame don’t always correlate as well as we would like to think.

  5. […] I’m also doing this so my most recent post — for the last 9 months — isn’t about Steve Jobs dying anymore.) Share:Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  6. David Hulse says:

    That’s really mean. Very unamerican. I would care.

  7. Reyes says:

    Thanks in favor of sharing such a nice thought, post is pleasant,
    thats why i have read it fully

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