In the 2000s, when much about the wider world was causing Americans intense anxiety, the one thing that got inarguably better, much better, was our personal technology. In October 2001, with the World Trade Center still smoldering and the Internet financial bubble burst, Apple introduced the iPod. In January 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession, the very month where unemployment breached 10% for the first time in a generation, Apple introduced the iPad.
Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment and technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket...
The genius of Steve Jobs has been to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough. The worldat least the part of the world in our laptop bags and our pockets, the devices that display our unique lives to others and reflect them to ourselveswill get better. This is the sense in which the tired old cliché of “the Apple faithful” and the “cult of the Mac” is true. It is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful, even if it will soon be dated, dusty, and discarded like a 2001 iPod.
This is certainly why my own conversion to Apple, and my deep loyalty to the company and its products, somehow felt comforting in the last decade. Their style elevates me, their power and reliability I have come to take for granted. Their stores have the innovation and beauty that a renewed Christianity would muster in its churches, if it hadn't collapsed in a welter of dogma and politics.
From time to time, my Tory pessimism asserts itself and I have become convinced that our current Tower of Babel will fall to the forces of religious fanaticism or technological destruction or some demonic combination of the two. And then I see an iPhone that can fucking translate, or a Pixar movie that transports, or a Gehry building that takes the breath away.
How can a civilization this astonishing destroy itself? And in that, yes, Steve Jobs has provided some secular hope. May he recover and thrive and be who he is.
(Photo: Customers enter the Apple store to buy iPhone 4 on September 25, 2010 in Beijing, China. By Feng Li/Getty Images.)