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What Are We Built For?

Toward the end of the film, Steve Jobs, the eponymous character confesses to his daughter, “I’m not well built.” The confession is presented in the film at a point of escalating self-awareness on the part of Jobs regarding his role as a father. The dialogue, and that line in particular, struck me as a poignant summary of the film and as a reflection on life in general.

Steve Jobs is less a biopic and more of a snapshot of a man struggling to find purpose and success amidst a rapidly changing world. The film essentially follows Jobs through three different computer rollouts: Apple’s Macintosh, The Next Cube, and the iMac. Paralleling this story is the one depicting Jobs’ relationship with his daughter. The metaphorical thread through these two stories is connection, and lack thereof. Jobs’ first two rollouts fail to connect with their commercial expectations, and his relationship with his daughter during most of the movie is strained and basically non-existent.

Throughout the film, the antagonist to the Steve Jobs character is the Steve Wozniak character, among others. In a flashback scene to the creation of the first Apple computer built in a garage, it is the Wozniak character who pleads with Jobs that the computer must be an open system, one capable of connecting with other computer products. The Jobs character adamantly refuses this entreaty, promising that Apple computers will be a closed system, rendering any outside connection unnecessary and, therefore, superfluous. During two of the three rollout scenes, the Wozniak character unsuccessfully prods Jobs to recognize the hard work and contributions of the team of engineers who worked on the commercially successful Apple II computers, those who built the foundation for future iterations. Jobs refuses to connect innovation with the tradition of innovation that preceded his work.

The line, “I am not well built,” is presented as an apologetic confession spoken by the Steve Jobs character to his daughter just prior to the rollout of the iMac, toward the very end of the movie. As the movie ends, the viewer is left to ponder the future of the relationship between Jobs and his daughter. However, if one considers Jobs’ confession, the fact that the film depicts Steve Jobs to be devoting precious time to his daughter instead of meeting the rollout’s scheduled deadline, and the film’s final scene (which I won’t reveal), the viewer is left with the conclusion that the connection between Jobs and his daughter in the film is transitioning to a different, more positive state.

The film ends without a summary of the success of the iMac and the future market-changing introductions of the iPod, iPhone, iTunes, and iPad. Importantly, the iMac’s success was partly due to the fact that it included a USB port, or a way for the computer to connect with other products. The later i-products also connect with other technologies and mediums (although iTunes did not initially).

As I reflected on the film and on the trajectory of Apple products before and after 1998, the theme of connection reverberates. As human beings, we are built to connect with others. We are not designed to be closed systems. Rather, we need others to sustain us, to challenge us, to make us grow. We are enriched by and through our relationships with others. The most powerful human emotion, love, is dependent upon the presence of others.

Steve Jobs
ends with an acknowledgment that human fulfillment is dependent upon relationships with others. It is purposefully ironic that one of the film’s subjects, computers, is a force that can detract us from relationship with others. In a rapidly changing world, technology can either bring us together or force us apart. It can be used to collaborate or to isolate.

Educators are connectors, as are schools. They connect with students; they connect students with knowledge; they connect young people with their future. Technology is an incredible force in our lives, particularly in the lives of young people. And, it will be increasingly so. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon teachers and schools to incorporate technology into the learning process in a way that augments and enhances collaboration that will be necessary in a world of expanding networks of interdependence.

Importantly, Steve Jobs never rolled out a new technological product in isolation. He did it in front of an audience, within an ever-expanding community. Young people today will be leaders in a world that is increasingly dependent upon a growing network of mutuality. Collaboration and effective communication skills are increasingly valued in the workplace. While technologies exist that threaten to pull us collectively toward greater isolation from one another, it will be those who can function most effectively within a community who will emerge as leaders. This, after all, is what we are built for.



Posted by wtaylor on Monday November, 2, 2015 at 11:27AM

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Over 100 years ago, Frederick Luther Gamage, Trinity-Pawling's Founding Headmaster, said, "Whether a boy succeeds or fails in the first instance at everything he tries is irrelevant.  The only boy who truly fails is the boy who fails to try."  Today, a century later, 315 boys live learn and grow together in an environment that fosters commitment, effort and character across the board.

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Stay Connected!

Trinity-Pawling has a rich tradition of alumni connectivity. We want you to participate in the life and vitality of the School. Through this engagement, alumni will help Trinity-Pawling propel forward.

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