Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

by justindburton on October 6, 2011

The passing of Steve Jobs is a cause for mourning for many in the United States and across the world. A quick flip of the TV channels or scan through Google indicates that his death is foremost on the public’s mind this morning.

As a blog dedicated to the consumption and analysis of popular music, it seems appropriate that we provide a post for discussion of the man most closely associated with the digital music age.

Several questions suggest themselves, though I present these not to limit the potential scope of discussion:

  • To what extent do we credit Steve Jobs (solely) with changing the way music is consumed? Certainly the iPod/iTunes combo was one of many competitors trying to harness digital music in the early Aughts, and certainly Jobs didn’t invent the iPod himself. But obviously the iPod/iPhone/iPad line has become synonymous with mobile consumption of digital media, and Jobs played a large role in the commodification of these devices and the content they deliver. Another way to ask this question might be this: to properly understand digital music consumption, do we need extensive information about Jobs, or do we consider him the most prominent figure in a culture but not integral to understanding how that culture works?
  • A follow-up to the above question might be to think about the standards we could attribute to iPod/iTunes that we wouldn’t consider credits. ie, if Apple (and perhaps Steve Jobs) is the primary architect of our digital music age, in what ways has the company and its gizmos curtailed possible innovations or modes of listening?
  • The outpouring of emotion for Jobs seems unique. It’s difficult to imagine this level of praise and reflection upon the death of any other technology giant (maybe I’m wrong?). Because of the personalized nature of the products Apple has become best-known for in the last decade, consumers seem to feel a personal connection to Jobs himself – the charismatic wizard who would delight us each summer with the presentation of a new generation of iSomething. It seems a curious study to consider how Jobs cultivated this image and how Apple itself has evolved from elitist outside (remember the 1984 Super Bowl ad?) to likable front-runner. It seems that much of the discussion of Jobs this morning incorporates all of the most positive traits of both the Outsider and Front-runner personae of Apple. Being adored or championed both when behind and when in the lead reflects a remarkably smooth transition that many other public figures have tried and failed to navigate. How did Jobs/Apple do it?
  • The phrasing of the last question suggests an intriguing study of identity. Jobs’ identity is nearly indistinguishable from Apple’s. What do we make of the conflation of a human with a corporate/technological entity? And how might we read Jobs as a part of the author-function – an innovator whose death was consumed by many via the portable devices he’s credited with inventing.


Jason Lee Oakes October 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

An interesting discussion on WNYC this morning:

Justin Burton October 8, 2011 at 4:31 am

Eric Harvey’s piece on Jobs is available at the pitchfork site ( He has a rather eloquent section on the Jobs/Apple identity conflation:

“We love Steve Jobs because he stands for Apple, and Apple is one of the most uniformly admired brands to ever exist. After the iTunes Music Store launched, however, Jobs was suddenly the savior of the recording and retail industries– much to the disdain, it bears mentioning, of CD pressing plants and independent record stores. Jobs’ likeness– his geeky cool– was projected onto the freshly stark-white Apple brand, which wasn’t quite a music business, but was suddenly much, much more than a company that made computers for graphic-design and video geeks.”

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