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  • Apple and the World of Paranoia

    August 17th, 2009

    There’s lots of mileage in creating a climate of fear, as any dictator can tell you. Indeed, even in a supposedly free country, you will find opposing politicians presenting their point of view not with logic and reason, but supposedly to protect you from the dastardly deeds of the opposition.

    I won’t get into that silliness about the so-called “death boards” that will supposedly let the government euthanize the older people in your family, so you don’t have to continue to spend money to keep them healthy. That, of course, represents one political party essentially accusing the other of attempted murder, and it was always based on a complete lie.

    Of course, in the tech world, Apple has cleverly used its Mac versus PC ads as a way to make you fear Microsoft, as if that’s anything that is difficult to do. The PC, depicted as an always-befuddled nerd, is perennially overcome by Windows-borne difficulties, such as ongoing threats of virus, constant crashes, and the sheer difficulty in getting anything done.

    In a clever casting move, the PC is actually the nicer guy. You feel for him, and you want to help the poor fellow find a way to get through his workday without suffering further difficulties and perhaps even make a few extra dollars so he can buy a nice-looking suit that actually fits. The Mac fellow is a little too smug, but that’s clearly the intent.

    But Apple isn’t just pleasingly satiric about promoting its interests. There are times when it can be damned hard-nosed about the way management attempts to control the message and the medium. Take any attempt to write about CEO Steve Jobs in a way that doesn’t toe the company line, and attempts to probe into this mercurial personality’s background, in the tradition of a regular investigative journalist.

    Just the other day, for example, it was reported that Apple reportedly attempted to block the publication of a profile Jobs, a piece that evidently referred to him as a “Silicon Che Guevara,” an attempt to draw a comparison to a ruthless dictator of recent history.

    The piece in question, which appeared in the UK’s Sunday Times, actually didn’t plow very much new ground. Compared to the various books on this highly-uncooperative personality, it would seem strange for Apple to object this one. They could just have given the requisite “no comment” responses and gone on their way.

    However, Jobs has created an extremely paranoiac corporate communications culture, where the media isn’t expected to read between the lines and separate facts from hype. True, Jobs will sit down for a rare, rare interview, or at least he did before his recent serious illness. But the questions the reporter is allowed to ask are strictly limited, and Jobs is notorious for walking out if he hears a question that strays from the script.

    This is not to say that Jobs has any valid reason to fear the press. He fully understands the art of thrust and parry and can certainly handle difficult questions, should he choose to do so. On the other hand, perhaps the penchant for corporate secrecy has its advantages. The press seems to like being beaten down, because reporters just keep coming back for more abuse. When Apple has something new to announce, it still gets worldwide headlines. So there may be madness in their methods.

    On the other hand, trying to shout down or otherwise suppress a story that contains information about the personal life of Steve Jobs is destined to fail. The harder they try, the more curious the press will become.

    Now I realize Apple won’t take this suggestion seriously, and if they did, the offending employee would be quickly shouted down by Jobs. What Jobs should really attempt is the simplest solution of all: Choose one or two reporters who are known to be tough but fair, and submit to several hours of unedited questions.

    It will probably never happen, but it may help correct a fair portion of the erroneous information out there once and for all.

    Sounds like a radical idea, right?

    There may be personal details about his family life he wouldn’t wish to disclose, such as which schools his children attend and other elements that he is surely entitled not to reveal. On the other hand, a special news program with Jobs honestly discussing his life, including both success and failures, might prove to be a catharsis for someone who clearly has serious personal issues.

    For the audience, who hear, see or at least read the text of the interview, they would get the answers to their questions about Steve Jobs direct from the horse’s mouth.

    Sure, he would be right in saying that he is entitled to a private life. However, his words and actions have transformed him into a major public figure. He has the right to correct false information, of course, but the easiest way to deal with the fame and fortune — wanted or otherwise — is simply to come out of hiding and, for one time only, answer all the questions and then return to his private life.

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