Writings of a techie wizard
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Sat, 08 Oct 2011

Unusually for me, this post will be almost entirely links to and quotes from articles by others. But I should explain briefly why I'm linking to them and quoting them. It's not to set the stage for my own comments about Mac OS X, or about iPods and iPads and so forth. I made comments about OS X in an earlier post, and there's no need to rehash them here. Nor do I have any personal anecdotes to share. My reason for linking to these articles, and quoting briefly from them, is, quite simply, to draw attention to what they say.

First, Eric Raymond's post On Steve Jobs's Passing, in which, towards the end, he says:

Commerce is powerful, but culture is even more persistent. The lure of high profits from secrecy rent can slow down the long-term trend towards open source and user-controlled computing, but not really stop it. Jobs's success at hypnotizing millions of people into a perverse love for the walled garden is more dangerous to freedom in the long term than Bill Gates's efficient but brutal and unattractive corporatism. People feared and respected Microsoft, but they love and worship Apple - and that is precisely the problem, precisely the reason Jobs may in the end have done more harm than good.

Next, quotes from two articles that Raymond links to. One is an op-ed in the New York Times entitled Steve Jobs, Enemy of Nostalgia, by Mike Daisey:

I have traveled to southern China and interviewed workers employed in the production of electronics. I spoke with a man whose right hand was permanently curled into a claw from being smashed in a metal press at Foxconn, where he worked assembling Apple laptops and iPads. I showed him my iPad, and he gasped because he'd never seen one turned on. He stroked the screen and marveled at the icons sliding back and forth, the Apple attention to detail in every pixel. He told my translator, "It's a kind of magic."

Mr. Jobs's magic has its costs. We can admire the design perfection and business acumen while acknowledging the truth: with Apple's immense resources at his command he could have revolutionized the industry to make devices more humanely and more openly, and chose not to. If we view him unsparingly, without nostalgia, we would see a great man whose genius in design, showmanship and stewardship of the tech world will not be seen again in our lifetime. We would also see a man who in the end failed to "think different," in the deepest way, about the human needs of both his users and his workers.

The other quote is from SkepticBlog:

Most pancreatic cancers are aggressive and always terminal, but Steve was lucky (if you can call it that) and had a rare form called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, which is actually quite treatable with excellent survival rates - if caught soon enough. The median survival is about a decade, but it depends on how soon it's removed surgically. Steve caught his very early, and should have expected to survive much longer than a decade. Unfortunately Steve relied on a diet instead of early surgery. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on islet cell carcinoma. As he dieted for nine months, the tumor progressed, and took him from the high end to the low end of the survival rate.

Finally, to put that last quote in perspective, here's one from another article, on Science Blogs, about Steve Jobs, neuroendocrine tumors, and alternative medicine:

Did Jobs significantly decrease his chance of surviving his cancer by waiting nine months to undergo surgery? It seems like a no-brainer, but it turns out that that's actually a very tough question to answer. Certainly, it's nowhere near as certain as Dunning [the author of the SkepticBlog article] tries to make it seem when he writes things like:

"Eventually it became clear to all involved that his alternative therapy wasn't working, and from then on, by all accounts, Steve aggressively threw money at the best that medical science could offer. But it was too late. He had a Whipple procedure. He had a liver transplant. And then he died, all too young."

After over seven years of science-based treatments that prolonged his life.

One has to be very, very careful about making this sort of argument. For one thing, it could not have been apparent that it was "too late" back in 2004, when it became clear that Jobs' dietary manipulations weren't working. For another thing, we don't know how large the tumor was, whether it progressed or simply failed to shrink over those nine months, and by how much it increased in size, if increase in size it did...

In retrospect, we can now tell that Jobs clearly had a tumor that was unusually aggressive for an insulinoma. Such tumors are usually pretty indolent and progress only slowly. Indeed, I've seen patients and known a friend of a friend who survived many years with metastatic neuroendocrine tumors with reasonable quality of life. Jobs was unfortunate in that he appears to have had an unusually aggressive form of the disease that probably would have killed him no matter what. That's not to say that we shouldn't take into account his delay in treatment and wonder if it contributed to his ultimate demise. It very well might have, the key word being "might." We don't know that it did, which is one reason why we have to be very, very careful not to overstate the case and attribute his death as being definitely due to the delay in therapy due to his wanting to "go alternative." It's also important to remember that, as much of a brilliant visionary Jobs was, even brilliant visionaries can make bad decisions when it comes to health.

All of the articles are worth reading in full; none of them are very long. All of them recognize what everyone knows, that Steve Jobs was indeed a brilliant visionary; as President Obama said in his statement eulogizing Jobs,

there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.

The quotes I've given above focus on other aspects of Jobs's life and work, not because they're more important, necessarily, but because it's always worth trying to put things in perspective. And that's all for now.

Posted at 22:39   |   Category: opinions   |   Tags: computers   |   Permalink
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