John Markoff of the New York Times recently caught up with Steve Jobs to discuss all things Apple and technological. Many of you know that Jobs just recently gave his MacWorld keynote and rolled out several new products. An overpriced, too little time, DRMed, movie rental store on iTunes with a good selection and a Thin notebook called the MacBook Air. All things buzz around Jobs and everyone who knows him says he likes it this way. So it Markoff's piece is interesting tech journalism but a quotation found therein was a bit ridiculous. In belittling the Amazon Kindle e-book strategy Jobs made the following comment:
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”
This is a prime example of why marketers cannot influence the future through leadership and must only follow the dollar signs of the masses and what they think people want. Now, I do not want to sound arrogant, but sometimes this amounts to a capitulation rather than leadership. My kids "want" to eat bad food all day, but as a parent/leader, I lead them to finer dining because it is what they need. There are several problems with Jobs' quote.
First, it assumes that people were not reading when they read his quote. I know he is referring to "books" but people are still reading Steve - hello POCBlog reader. Second, it commits what philosophers call the IS/OUGHT fallacy. Simply because something IS a certain way, does not mean that it OUGHT to be that way. Of course this deals in ethics and views of the common good, not just "what sells." Jobs only concern appears to be the latter. We ought to be (sorry) concerned in helping literacy, not capitulating to literary decline in culture. Jobs seems to be saying that a gadget whose focus is reading book is flawed, because the kids don't read good any more.
So what should we do with challenges like "people not reading?" My conviction would be to help people love to read. Because reading...well, its fundamental. The same thing can be said in the church. People say that the Christian community don't read deep things, doesn't care about theology, only reads books full of lightweight kitsch...blah, blah, blah. The marketers therefore flood the bookstores with such stuff and do not help the problem a bit. Our response was to start a young adult ministry that had these things at the center rather than giving in and just entertaining the folks with a get a date club ministry. I write for Inversion, not for publishers. I commend thinking, feeling, aching, caring and theology - not shallowness because that is what the folks want. My goal is not to make it big, strike it big, but to establish people in the gospel and a sacrificial commitment to actually following Jesus. The result - our people's joy in God and Jesus' mission going forth. So when Steve Jobs says "nobody reads anymore" - just reply, "Well, I do!" and go spread your tribe. When people say that nobody cares about theological reflection anymore - I just reply "Well, we do!" and may the tribe increase.