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Sour Apple: Steve Jobs and snow jobs

Robert X. Cringely | June 25, 2009
Has the high-tech icon really returned to health and his old job? Apple would like you to think so. Cringely's not so sure.

Have you heard the news? Steve Jobs is back.

Well, we think it was Jobs. It might have been some other skinny middle-aged guy skulking about Apple's Cupertino campus wearing jeans and a black turtleneck. But Apple really truly deeply wants us to believe that, in yet another miracle, St. Steven is back on the ball, just a few weeks after upgrading his internal organs.

Last week's Wall Street Journal story about Jobs undergoing a liver transplant in April was followed immediately by a) a bland statement in a press release allegedly made by Jobs, and b) a few suspiciously convenient sightings of the Apple icon at the company's HQ.

Hey, if Steve really does feel well enough to return to work just weeks after swapping out one of his more important organs, then more power to him. Let's hope he remains on top of the Apple pile for another 10 years. But I smell the fetid stench of yet another PR move designed to hide the real story about the man and his health. And that ain't right.

So far, the story has gone from "Steve's fine and it's none of your beeswax why he's so damned skinny," to "Steve's just taking a break to deal with this little hormone imbalance, nothing to see here," then "Liver transplant, what liver transplant?" and finally "Hey, Steve's back -- you may all now return to worshipping him as the Man-God he is."

[UPDATE: I've been hearing from some readers who seem to believe I wish Jobs ill. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hope he makes a full and lasting recovery. The world (and this gig) would be a far lesser place without him. I do think, however, that he's not done right by anyone by keeping his illness a secret. And I think the whole notion that Jobs must return by the end of June -- or, at least, appear to have returned -- is silly. I think he should take as long as he needs to get well. Is that more clear?]

Normally, I think someone's personal health condition should be just that -- personal. But Steve Jobs isn't just a person any more. He's an institution. He's the straw that stirs the drink, the cold crisp taste that quenches our thirst for groovy gadgetry yet still leaves us wanting more.

Jobs has quite deliberately made himself the public face of his company. His products don't speak for themselves, he speaks for them. And though thousands of talented people are involved in creating and marketing those products, Jobs is virtually the only one anybody sees.


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