There’s a new biopic on Steve Jobs which has a tagline of something like “Can a great man be a good man?”
But I’ve never heard anything about Steve Jobs which would put him into the “great man” category. “Great man” or “great woman” is a very small category for me. It requires courage, self-sacrifice, some intent other than wanting to make money. It requires an attempt to make other people’s lives better, but it doesn’t require actual success. And the great are not necessarily super nice and are definitely not flawless.
So for me, calling Steve Jobs a “great man” is risible. But that’s my definition. What about you?
If it was all about money I doubt he would have worked until the very end. It is really hard to tell what were the real motives of notable historical figures. For me person can be considered great if he achieves something truly remarkable with his skills - and don’t go all the way to the dark side, like Hitler and Stalin did.
Well, to be honest, I think the very question “Can a great man be a good man?” makes the entire point, and makes it very clear what the semantic difference is. The obvious question being asked is whether a “Great man” in the sense of “having an unusually massive degree of influence on the course of human events” can also be a “good man” in the sense of “being a decent, moral and ethical person who improves the lot of those around him.” The OP’s definition of “great” is clearly not the definition the biopic is using.
In the sense meant, Jobs obviously was a great man; he had a tremendous degree of influence on the course of technological process and commerce and built the most valuable business entity in the history of the world. That is, by the definition clearly in use, great. Whether he was good or not is a different story and inasmuch as I didn’t know him I’m not qualified to say.
It feels like Sorkin is trying to riff on that in this movie.
I do believe Jobs will be one of the very few “Great Men” that historical narratives will associate with the transition from Computers to Consumer Tech and the massive cultural changes emerging from it. From Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Internet Age.
And yeah, along so many dimensions, he appears to have not been a Good man.
The Two Steves, Gates and Berners-Lee may get a lot of attention in that sense indeed, maybe not in the same relative proportion as we may assume today. Too early to know if they’ll be rated as “Great Men” two generations after the last one passes, or four.
Jobs in the end indirectly marketed himself almost as much as his product.
Again, if you define “Great” as influential/a key actor in the course of an historical narrative, there are many, many businessmen who have functioned as “great men/women” over the course of world history.
Robber-barons like JP Morgan or Carnegie, or players like Henry Ford may not be remotely “Great” but they have cast historically-long shadows.
Steve Jobs was definitely talented and uncompromising. He had a vision for his products that made possible not only excellent technical design, but aesthetic design as well. He was able to wrangle out some deals that changed how we do things - iTunes in particular, which showed that people would pay for digital music if you just gave them the option to.
Apple is not the most valuable business entity in the history of the world. In real dollars Microsoft, GE, and Cisco were more valuable. Standard Oil almost certainly was. The Dutch East India Company was probably the most valuable of all time.
Henry Ford was “great” in the humanitarian sense because he felt it was important that his workers make a decent wage; they weren’t just disposable cogs to him.
In contrast, the Silicon Valley culture (as exemplified by people like Steve Jobs & Elon Musk) is very much of the opposite viewpoint: The company owns your soul, and will wring every last milligram of productivity out of you.
I think he was one of the most influential people of our time. His inventions changed the entire culture. However, the word “great” on its own doesn’t really fit him because he lacks the depth of character needed to be a great person.
I’d call Jimmy Carter a great person, though I don’t think that he was a great President. I’d never call Bill Clinton a great person, though I thought he was a great President.