Steve Jobs on a stamp issued by a very poor African country.
Steve Jobs on a stamp issued by a very poor African country. catwalker/

The documentary Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, which opens today and I reviewed, begins with a disturbing story concerning a check that Steve Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak received from Atari for contributing to the development of a video game. These were the days before the two formed Apple. Wozniak managed the technical side of things, and Jobs the business. The check was for $7,000, but, according to Woznaik, Jobs told him it was for $700 and wrote him a check for $350. When Woznaik later discovered the true value of the check from the head of Atari, he was deeply hurt that Jobs pulled a fast one on him because he thought they were "friends.” The documentary describes this betrayal as Jobs's original sin.

The impression we get from Man in the Machine—and it provides plenty of evidence to support this impression—is that Jobs's career was all about stepping on people to get what he wanted. Sometimes he even stepped on people for no good reason other than they were there to be stepped on. Though he is celebrated as an innovator and a world-historical genius, he had much more in common with the standard-issue heartless capitalists we find in the novels of Charles Dickens.

But the world loved and still loves this man, and it's very unlikely that any revelation about his darkest deeds or his most devious schemes and scams will diminish this near-universal affection. In a way, Jobs was well aware of this fact. He knew he could do whatever he wanted (hurt his family, abuse his employees in Silicon Valley, exploit workers at Chinese factories) because the world would always love him. Even Mozambique, a failed Marxist experiment and one of the poorest countries in the world (its economy is often whacked hard by the turbulence of the world market), loved Jobs so much that it made several stamps in his honor the year he died, 2011. The United States at least waited until this year to do that.

Now we know that Jobs was a regular asshole, we need a documentary that addresses the much greater and more terrifying mystery: Why does the world not care that he was an asshole? And what does that say about us? Moreover, what do we lack that this essentially soulless creep fills? Jobs is not just a ghost in his machines, but also the ghost in some of our deepest and most utopian dreams.