Friday, January 16, 2009

Blogging About the Ailing Steve Jobs

Little happens at Apple (AAPL) that isn't examined and dissected by the blogosphere in exacting and sometimes overwrought detail. After all, this is an online community that gorged itself on a blog written by the "Fake Steve Jobs."

So it's not surprising that as soon as Apple announced on Jan. 14 that CEO Steve Jobs was taking a medical leave of absence through June, speculation about Jobs' condition and the future of the company began appearing—from screeds against the company for allegedly not being up-front about the seriousness of Jobs' health to speculation that Jobs has had a recurrence of cancer and is dying.

On's Gadget Lab, Brian X. Chen cites analysts who think Jobs is more seriously ill than the company is letting on: "The contradictory statements from Apple and Jobs are leading some to speculate that Jobs' latest missive is the first step in a phased goodbye. 'My bet is he's not coming back,' said Roger Kay, an Endpoint Technologies analyst. Despite all the protestations, I think he has cancer. They talk about digestive this and digestive that, but…forget all the buzz you're hearing. Just look at the photos."

Elegiac Entries

Many of the blogs are taking a valedictory tone, as if it's a foregone conclusion that Jobs won't be back to work in five and a half months—or at all. One commenter even posted the text of the Dylan Thomas poem arguing against accepting death, Do not go gentle into that good night.

"To call what Apple co-founder Steven Paul Jobs hath wrought a religion, of course, is easy," suggests Brian Caulfield on "There are the adoring masses. There are the rituals of new product introductions. There are the signs and symbols: The famous Wired cover bearing an Apple logo enmeshed in thorns above the exhortation 'Pray' comes to mind."

The idea of mortality isn't something new in the world of Steve Jobs, of course. He famously ruminated on death, and his cancer diagnosis, in a widely republished graduation speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005.

Who Could Replace Jobs as CEO?

Leander Kahney, author of Inside Steve's Brain, says that Jobs often mentioned in articles that death was "the driving force in his life. Over and over Jobs said he was driven to make an impact before his time ran out. It was such a recurrent theme, I thought of devoting an entire chapter to the subject in the book. Jobs had an obsession with death to rival Emily Dickinson's."

On Silicon Alley Insider, Dan Frommer raises the question, what if Jobs doesn't come back? "Will Apple have wasted five months in purgatory—potentially losing time and direction under temporary leadership? Perhaps in any other company's case. But probably not in Apple's. We strongly believe that when Apple names a new chief, it'll be someone who's already a top Apple executive, not an outside candidate. Potential CEOs include Tim Cook, iPhone software head Scott Forstall, retail boss Ron Johnson, or industrial design guru Jonathan Ive."

Unsurprising, the ghoulish speculation over Jobs' health is inspiring a backlash. The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher says "the never-ending obsessive death watch that has centered on Apple CEO Steve Jobs" makes the "skin crawl."

And New York Times tech writer David Pogue says this about Jobs: "I really, really hope that there's light at the end of this tunnel for Mr. Jobs. Because even the most unhinged of Apple bashers will have to admit that the world is a lot more exciting place when Apple is firing on all creative cylinders. And that means having Steve Jobs at the helm."


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