Today’s UK Guardian newspaper carried an article on Steve Jobs and Apple, reflecting on the driven nature of the company’s CEO. There are of course many people in Apple Inc, and indeed many whose contribution to the company’s fortunes and the quality of its products has been vital. But few companies are so closely identified with their CEO as this one is, and reports on his health and outlook on life have an immediate impact on its share price and on the confidence of its customers. Right now the talk is on whether he has recovered from his illness and is ready to return to the company.
As some readers of this blog will know, everything you read here is written and managed on Apple equipment. Right now I am sitting at my iMac; a few hours ago I was considering readers’ comments and publishing them, and responding to some of them, on my iPhone. Shortly I shall be taking my dog on a final late night walk, and while I do so I shall be listening to a particular podcast on a science policy theme on my iPod. I am wholly committed to Apple, and shudder when occasionally I find myself having to handle the equipment of other companies. And yet, if I am honest, there is nothing that this iMac does that could not be done equally well on, say, a Dell, or even a computer that someone could assemble for me in their garage from parts bought in any computer shop. And recently I gave an HP netbook as a present to a family member, and in trying it out beforehand was impressed with its features. But there is something in the Apple range that keeps me loyal, even if I could not always explain what that something is.
Some of it is the design. I loved the original Apple Macintosh in the mid-1980s. But in the Jobs-less era from the late 1980s and into the 1990s I grew disenchanted; the various LCs and Performas or whatever the models were called still had the neat Apple operating system, but the machines looked like any old IBM-compatible box, and I just lost interest and bought a PC. Only when Jobs returned and with him the unique style did I also restore the Apple brand to my home and office.
Perhaps the ‘something’ that makes me an Apple man is this: when all is said and done, Apple is more a concept than a piece of technology. What you buy into is the feel of the equipment and the philosophy of the community that has gathered around it. Not for nothing is Apple the company that popularised the desktop icon (yes, I know – it was developed by Xerox, but Apple brought it to your office). The whole Apple concept is iconic, awash with symbolism and ritual.
I may be jumping a little far now, but there is something of interest here for any modern organisation, including a university. DCU’s mission, for example, is strongly linked with a sense of identity, and with the idea that it doesn’t just offer a suite of educational programmes and research projects, but a particular concept of what we are in our time and our place. And I suspect that our success somewhat depends on our being able to convey this distinctive image, both to ourselves and to others. That isn’t a trivial or superficial thing: identity and community are everything, and I would like to think that access to DCU is also access to a particular outward-looking community.
I wish Steve Jobs well, and hope he returns to Apple at the end of the month, refreshed and invigorated. I’ll be watching.