Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Did Steve Jobs change the world?

In the beautiful, rarefied bubble called Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs is God. Kind of like the tech world’s Eric Clapton. As a Jobs enthusiast, I’d consider it blasphemous to think otherwise of Jobs’ enormous impact in the convergence of technology and art.

But it’s an exaggeration (most of these articles offer business pablum, not facts) to suggest he actually changed the world. Did DaVinci or Picasso change the world? No they did not. Nor did Jobs.

Particularly in the Silicon Valley, a place I call home, some folks may be missing the bigger picture. A recent Quora answer by Susan Wu kinda hits the nail on the head. Thoughts worth reproducing in most of its entirety. So here goes…

Most of Silicon Valley is focused on building products for the top 1% of the world’s population.  Most of the world needs solutions to problems we rarely talk about, in areas like health care, agricultural production, sustainable construction, citizen activism and empowerment, childhood education, affordable transportation, supply chain optimization, community solidarity and efficacy, etc. And I’m not solely referring to base of the pyramid topics (like clean water access), either.  The average “middle class” citizen outside the US doesn’t have as much luxury to indulge in existential crisis and loneliness.

Most of the world is not 16-29 year old males. There’s a whole range of perspectives that go underrepresented in Silicon Valley. There are a lot of women out there. Older folks. Also, it might be hard to imagine, but there are a lot of kids not growing up on video games.

Given the above two points, the emergent ‘morality’ of the products Silicon Valley creates can be limited and not particulalry reflective of much of the world’s compass. All products inherit the values of their creators and have a sort of corresponding ‘morality.’ When you create an algorithm, it’s optimizing for something — it might be that you think “saving time” is a value worth optimizing for. Or it could be that what you’re trying to optimize for is quantity (quantity of access, of distribution), which can often come at the cost of quality and depth of interaction. Or like most of us who are successful Americans, we automatically assume that our stance on individual rights and belief in the individualistic survival of the fittest / the elite will rise are “ideal” or “optimal.”. Another example is our cultural bias towards the “cult of the celebrity.” And we tend to measure success by economic output.

These assumptions aren’t necessarily true or as relevant or perhaps ideal for a large part of the world, yet we often imbue the products we create with these values.

I’m not saying any of this is good or bad, it’s just worth thinking about. What are the values you are imbuing your product with?  Do they fit into your vision of the future? Be thoughtful not only about all of the stuff we talk about openly (design, business model, user interaction, hiring and culture) but also be thoughtful about this stuff too.

In this context Malcolm Gladwell’s recent comments that “50 years from now Gates will be remembered for his charitable work seems to make sense. No one will even remember what Microsoft is, and all the great entrepreneurs of this era, people will have forgotten Steve Jobs.” ring true. Even in the technology space, it’s Microsoft who has put a PC (may not be pretty, but it’s affordable) on every desk world wide.

So taking pride in your work, working like an artist (this is far less common than one would like) and designing the heck out of your products with a fierce attention to detail will probably be Jobs’ legacy.

As for changing the real world, there’s no shortage of hard work that needs to be done on products and issues that impact billions of people world wide.

Coming Soon: A list of non-profit startups that are actually changing the world. Here’s just one tackling a big problem.

Filed under: Steve Jobs

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