Today, Americans everywhere remember Steve Jobs with the accolades civilization has traditionally reserved for conquerors. But Jobs slew no hated enemies. He did not plunder any rival city-state and bring the spoils home. He did not seize political power and crush despised factions. He made things and introduced services that changed millions of lives and the way we do business in both little and big ways. His vision was for a world where everyone’s life is more convenient and filled with more opportunities, not a world where “his people” gather arms to march on “those people” to utterly ruin them. The fact that he’s regarded as heroic in our age says a lot about how different the world is today.
It turns out, though, that he was much worse than you ever suspected. There are several admiring Steve Jobs stories in Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s much-anticipated authorized biography, but they’re overshadowed by the many, many more instances in which Jobs comes off as a world-class jerk. Jobs was rude, mean, abusive, and often neglectful to everyone in his life; the people he hated got it bad, but the people he loved sometimes got it worse. Some of this isn’t surprising. Jobs’ arrogance, his monumental self-regard, his irresponsibility, and his unremitting cruelty to those who failed to live up to his expectations have always dogged his image. During his life, Jobs did express regret for some of his actions—including abandoning his first daughter, Lisa, for several years after she was conceived out of wedlock. (He continued to suggest that he might not be her father even after a paternity test proved he was.)
When friends and colleagues offer theories about Jobs—several say that both his genius and his cruelty stem from the fact that he was put up for adoption by his biological parents—Jobs dismisses them. He can’t explain even the smallest of his quirks. Why did he refuse to have a license plate on his car? He admits that his initial reason, privacy, became moot in the age of Google Maps. So in the end he didn’t have a plate “because I don’t.” Illuminating!
... Jobs also seemed to suspect that he wasn’t really wounding the people he berated. If you were a bozo, why wouldn’t you want to know it? “I don’t stay mad,” he protested to Ive. Some friends suggest that he simply lacked empathy—or, as Tina Redse, a longtime former girlfriend, says, that he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s also quite likely that he was afflicted with an eating disorder. All his life, Jobs experimented with various extreme diets. (He’d fast for days, eat only certain kinds of fruits for weeks, and proclaim himself cleansed and invigorated after all of it.) He kept this up even after he got sick—indeed, for nine months after his cancer diagnosis, he refused surgery and tried various dietary cures, some of which he found online. His wife explored psychiatric treatment for his food issues, but Jobs refused
It may be true that our world is different today when a man like Steve Jobs can be celebrated in a way reserved for conquerors but the jury may still be out on how few human sacrifices Jobs made upon the altars of success and innovation. Call me jaded, pessimistic, cynical, or cruel but I'm not so sure modern Western civilization has advanced to the point where we have heroes who obtain their victories without human sacrifices. We may be better off in as much as the human sacrifice doesn't have to bleed to death but a guy who tried to convince his own daughter he wasn't really her dad still sounds like a guy with problems.