This weekend, in most of the country, Danny Boyle’s movie, “Steve Jobs”, goes on general release. It packs a stellar cast. I never met him (Jobs, that is); never got the opportunity, and I wish I had. For years, though, it felt like I knew the man, which was uncanny. Not uncanny in the creepy sense, but uncanny in that in using products conceived, designed and - yes - peddled by somebody, you connect with the person. Consider that for a brief second. The persona of this individual was so implicated in the material gadgets that he created and sold for a living, that they told you much about the man. I risk losing you for a moment here, for it appears I dabble into realms of greater interest to the psychologist enquirer than to the everyday joe. Yet, in that observation about Jobs lies a salient point and a deeply relevant one.
So, I never met Steve Jobs but in a way, I did. I felt I knew him, and his famed combustive persona. I felt I could imagine the brusqueness and rudeness that many had described about his character. I could just see his impulsiveness and - yes, if we don’t shy from it - his driven “selfishness”. I could understand the experiences, as narrated by them, of people who had come away painfully bruised from their encounters with the man. At the same time, I could see behind the same man, a personality that probably wasn’t as surefooted as his demeanor fought to portray. There, behind the spectacles and thinning hair, was a person who had few in his inner circle he leant on, and who knew by personal experience the profundity and elusiveness of true friendship. I could make out the family man who had found his rock in his wife, Laurene Powell, and a coterie of work colleagues. That, maybe, is a lot to infer simply from interacting with the man’s machines, but as the years have gone by, they’ve become stronger convictions in me.
My love affair with the mac (for that is how Apple users would instinctively describe their bond with their gizmos) began more than a decade ago. In those years, I lived in Lagos, Nigeria, and the Apple computer footprint was very thin on the ground. Nonetheless, that wasn’t a hindrance to hold me back. My Apple ecosystem has grown since then, and my wife has contracted the same infection. There is a migration flow of converts from other systems to the mac platform, but rarely in the opposite direction. Mac users once converted tend not to return to origin. Such is the symbiosis - material and sentimental at once - between them and their electronic client, a bond of the exact nature that Steve Jobs as a visionary had intended. He transformed not just the world of personal computers, but telecommunication, music, media technology, our personal interactions with self and one another. He ended the world as we knew it.
I didn’t see the Ashton Kutcher biopic, “Jobs”; didn’t reckon it’s artistic merits did the subject justice. I waited eagerly for the next effort, and was thrilled when Danny Boyle was announced as its director. Then came reports about misgivings regarding Boyle’s rendition of Jobs. This would have been not unusual: artists always claim more license than their clients or topics would preferably concede. What impacted me, though, was the near unanimity in the expressed dissatisfaction and the collective - though individually felt - sense of hurt, from quarters very close to Jobs: his wife, close colleagues and friends. Again, perhaps not the most impartial fonts for appraisement in this case, except that these persons had never shied from acknowledging that Mr. Jobs was, in actual fact, a difficult character. They were not out to airbrush the real Steve Jobs, they simply opined that they do not recognize the person they had known intimately for decades, in Mr. Boyle’s picture.
I was traveling from Canada to the United Kingdom at about the time when Walter Isaacson’s book, "Steve Jobs", went on sale. I remember making a beeline for the bookstore at Toronto’s airport and yanking a copy of the biography off the shelf, lest other travelers beat me to it and mop up the two dozen or so copies that were on display. Isaacson presents a Jobs that is in many places wracked by personality flaws and conflicts, but one that in his private moments acknowledges this and regrets several of them. (Indeed, Jobs had apparently given him carte blanche to write whatever his honest impressions led him to, without need of vetting the work.) His Jobs isn’t perfect, but he isn’t bigoted, either. He leans on his wife and close colleagues to prod him in the back and tug his wont-to-wander ego into a reality check.
I have huge respect for Danny Boyle, and was living in England when he won his oscar for "Slumdog Millionaire". He touched a chord in people’s hearts when he carried the gold statuette down to his hometown pub to show his dad and hometown folk. England was very moved by that, as was I. Here was a superstar with his feet still firmly planted in the real world, who hadn’t forgotten his own. This time, though, Boyle and his A-list actors apparently deliver a Steve Jobs that is unrecognizable to those who lived and worked closest with him. In the director’s defense, the film’s producers state that this isn’t a biopic as such, just a spotlight on some years of Job’s work at Apple. That may well be the case, but it’s viewers will come away from the screenings thinking they know the man and the character he embodied. That, for me, would be deeply sad. I never met the man, but I truly wish I had.◼︎