In 2007, for example, people wanted smaller mobile phones, mobile phones with dedicated QWERTY keyboards, phones with a stylus. No one was asking for a larger mobile device that can’t fold/flip/slide, with a touchscreen that also doubles as a keypad, especially not from a computer company that had only recently found new life with the iPod and was now aiming to compete with mobile technology giants like Nokia, Motorola, and BlackBerry. Many in the tech industry predicted that the iPhone would be dead on arrival. And Jobs, as we now know, proved them all wrong. He delivered on his promise to create what the world didn’t yet want and make them want it immediately. It was the fifth time in his career he had done so, if you count his investment with Pixar and the unlikely success of Toy Story, the world’s first fully computer-animated feature film.
And this is exactly why I find his quote about media so interesting. Jobs was incredibly in tune with human psychology, and incredibly connected to the power brokers of the world. He knew that narrative can be shaped, and he knew that there are people in this world with the money, power, and influence to shape it. So I wonder: Did he truly believe what he was saying?
Corporate-controlled media companies absolutely do give people what they want. But they’re also experts at making certain narratives become what people want and then giving them more of that (so…just like Jobs did with Apple). In fact, it’s kind of what the media does best. And for some media companies, this idea of creating what people want and then selling it to them as if they had always wanted it, is at the very core of their business model. And why wouldn’t it be? The controlling partners, the vested interests, the government subsidies, the corporate advertisers—these are the institutions that pay the bills. The viewer, even when accounting for subscription fees and retail purchases, is still—by and large—just the product. And as we all know by now, if the service is free (e.g. social media, for-profit online periodicals), the user is definitely the product.
Do I think Jobs created the iPhone for nefarious reasons? No.
Do I think a vast majority of media employees chose the profession to enrich people’s lives and they do just that every day they show up to work? Yes.
But I also know that the iPhone has become an overpriced Trojan horse for spyware and data harvesting applications (iPhone user here). I know that owning a newspaper in a time when newspapers are dying is still worth it since the power of mass persuasion will always have value (just ask Jeff Bezos or Rupert Murdoch). And I know that Elon Musk didn’t purchase Twitter for $44 billion because he thought the financially failing but politically and culturally influential social media company would make him money.
And so I wonder some more.
Maybe what Jobs really meant by his quote was this: The networks give us what we want because what we want is to be controlled.
In this issue of Dark Matter Magazine, nine stories examine the dangers of unchecked power and influence, and the evil ways these powers are wielded in order to gain and maintain control over others.
In “The Loop” by Dana Vickerson, one woman learns that driving and being driven are often matters of perspective, since neither passenger is truly in control—especially when chaos grows in proportion to so-called progress.
In “A Difference of 21.6 Degrees, or Confessions of a Thermostat” by Rob E. Boley, the mind of a smart device is used to show how attempting to control what is beyond control will almost always end in disaster, especially when the attempt is governed by a ruleset that has adherents but no critics.
“ETA” by Andrew Leon Hudson explores the very real fear of losing one’s bodily autonomy—even one’s entire identity—to an unstoppable, faceless evil that can exert control in ways that elude our best defenses and mock our most powerful institutions.
In “Nothing Left to Sever” by Ryan Marie Ketterer, a tireless employee learns a hard truth about life: you don’t always get as much as you give, especially when the system you’re in rewards those on top and punishes those on bottom—this is by design, and any attempt to subvert this order will only end in the destruction of one’s self.
Similarly, “Winona’s Window” by Alli Lichtman shows how one’s own ego, one’s own personal desire for power, influence, and control, can lead to the perversion of all that is good, the imprisonment of all that is innocent, and the destruction of all but the worst of one’s self.
In “Still Life with Vivisected Dream” by Tiffany Morris, an artist escapes into the gruesome nightmares of a stranger in order to feel something real in a world that has become a cheap simulacrum that does nothing for the human spirit since its only imperative is to sterilize, pacify, and tame.
“Harvester” by Andrew F. Sullivan also jumps into dreams, but this time in service to the hegemon, which now pays top dollar to steal, silence, or erase the lived experiences of others. In this future, even a harmless memory lost long ago to the subconscious can make a person a target, especially if the memory they possess is of a very wealthy man with a sociopathic obsession to control every aspect of himself.
In “Militiam Vermes, or the Hardest Break-up on Colony Two” by G. D. Angier, we see how the colonization of one’s mind is a ruthlessly efficient means to an end that protects the aggressor from retribution and can even absolve them of guilt, should they feel it, since what they are doing isn’t hurting anyone—in fact, it’s making them feel good.
And lastly, in this issue’s reprint story “Are You a Vessel?” author Sloane Leong tells it like it is: some things in this world care nothing for human dignity. You are merely an object to them, and objects are made to be possessed.
. To the younger reader who may have grown up without network TV: The “networks” Jobs is referring to are television broadcasting networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.), but a timeless analog will always be any corporate-controlled media company (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch, etc.).
Copyright © 2023 Rob Carroll