In California, October 16th will now be forever remembered as Steve Jobs day. It will be a day on which the residents of Silicon Valley take time out from their busy schedules, lift their craned necks from their screens of code and pause in remembrance of perhaps the greatest pioneer to ever influence the way we do the little things.
When we listen to music, we listen to mp3s. Often on our iPods. When we search the web, we very well might be using our iMacs or our MacBooks. We read magazines on our iPads. When we make a call, we might very likely be tapping the little green phone icon on our iPhones. I know that since I woke up today, I have used most of these things: I’m writing this article in Word for Mac.
Wherever you go, you are bound to see a luminescent apple somewhere. Whether at your next gig, in your next lecture, when you browse the web or when you tune in to watch the latest episode House, MD., you’re going to be greeted by that familiar logo.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Apple is not the only technology company that has had a huge impact on the way we live our day-to-day lives. To ignore Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, etc. would be foolish. That being said, it is almost universally acknowledged that there’s something different about Apple and its products. And it is widely acknowledged that that is due to the late Steve Jobs, founder of both Apple and Pixar, famous for his ‘casual uniform’ of black turtleneck, Levi 501s and Nike trainers: what he lacked in his own fashion is more than made up for in the attention to detail – near perfection – of Apple products. And it’s this attention to detail, this effort, and this philosophy that the world is now missing.
Just like the Apple logo has a bite out of it, the world is now missing a sizeable piece of its creative heart.
To quickly defend myself against claims of being a slave to a brand, I need quote only the brilliant President Obama: ‘Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it’.
It’s stirring stuff.
Whilst the more feeble minds of the internet have already begun churning out poor jokes at his expense, I have been thinking about this topic intensely since the moment I found out. Obviously, I have never met the man and have nothing to say about the claims that he was, at times, a ruthless businessman and not always easy to get along with (what great mind is?), but I definitely count myself among those inspired by what he did: a man who had the confidence to think that he could ‘change the world’ and actually pulled it off.
One man really can change the world.
Steve Jobs gave himself a salary of $1 a year: financial gain was never his aim. Quotes like this sum up this philosophy-creator: ‘remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose’. There are dozens more like this. All worth looking up online.
‘The world has lost a visionary,’ as Obama said. How was he a visionary? Because unlike many businesses (Microsoft is a prime example), Steve Jobs didn’t want his company to make products that just did what they were supposed to. He wanted his company to make products that worked well – but not just well, exceptionally well. Not only should they work intuitively; they should look aesthetically pleasing, both inside and out. To this day, I have never heard someone criticise the look of a MacBook Pro: it may well be the best looking piece of technology ever created. This is to say nothing of the way the iPod and the iPhone revolutionised the way we listen to music and contact one another.
Everyone knows that Apple are meticulous in their design and their work ethic. But the other thing that I think sums up the brand is their minimalism. If you visit the Apple website, you will be greeted by a site that has swathes of white text and the familiar black font. Every single page on that website – just like all of their products – are scrupulously checked and double checked to make sure they fit in with the philosophy of Apple. You just don’t find that sort of effort anywhere else in the world on a large scale. There’s never any waste with Apple.
Just why did so many millions of people swarm to Apple stores all over the world to leave vigils? Why do so many people queue up for days to get the latest Apple products? Why am I writing this article? There are many reasons: functional, aesthetic and philosophical.
All I know is, whilst we may have lost the man who brought us the most iconic creations of the twenty first century, and whilst Apple may face a somewhat uncertain future, Steve Jobs left us one last gift:
The knowledge that ‘the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do’.
1955 – 2011
I wrote this for the debate section of my university’s newspaper on the topic of music piracy: whether it’s a useful or a harmful thing. I’ve argued that it is a positive thing, and you can read my piece in full below.
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Living in what is often called ‘the information age’, piracy is something nearly everyone has come into contact with. Everyone either knows someone who pirates digital content, knows the software involved, or does it themselves.
It would be difficult (near impossible) to calculate the statistics of who pirates what, but it would be an incredibly useful statistic. By their very nature, the pirate does not want to be discovered. At least, not by the law. But, saying that, many pirates are quite proud of what they do. So let’s remind ourselves why the pirate is unlikely to admit his hobby of stashing gig upon gig of music on their hard-drive to a policeman.
The outrageous fines. Individual people getting fined thousands and thousands of pounds for downloading a song or an album. A classic case of making an example out of an individual to scare the masses into subservience. Has it worked? I don’t think incorrect to say that piracy increases year-upon-year, and some pirates are so offended by this disproportionate punishment that they actually pirate things with a little more spite towards these conglomerates and their heavy handed approach. The pressure placed on law enforcement agencies around the world is truly immense. Music and film bosses are adamant that those who pirate are collapsing the foundations of their respective industries.
Their billion-dollar industries.
A quick detour. Who thinks that these industries are a good thing, when all is said in done? This might not be a popular point of view, but a glance at the synonymous world of football might win people over: do the music bosses really need million dollar salaries for what they do? I’m going to say no.
I know this is a controversial subject, but as someone who sees himself as an artist (of words, rather than music) I can honestly say that I would gladly spend my whole life grinding without fortune if I was able to spend my life pursuing my art. My passion. By extension, I’m going to argue that any real musician would work for 1% of the multi-millions that they gain through their lifestyle. I honestly believe that artists would do what they do for free, as long as they make it to the end of the next month.
Of course, there are those who really are in it for the fame and fortune. Those who want the rockstar lifestyle. My defence of piracy is going to ignore these people, and this includes the music bosses and the men in suits who feed off other people’s creativity and gain extortionate amounts of money. I think that the majority of pirates are against this too: they don’t want to support these outrageous salaries, but what they do want is music. More music. Good music. They want to fill their mp3 players up and support the music aspect of the music industry. They want the best new bands to get their break, and they want them to have a career doing what they love. But isn’t this hypocritical? How can I argue that the pirate wants the big-wigs to lose their salary but that they want to support musicians?
Quite simply, actually. Take a look at iTunes. This is the digital age, and people can now download songs in under a minute, for under a pound. There’s no debating that this is a wildly successful venture: iTunes has topped over ten billion music downloads since it began.
10,000,000,000+ downloads. 
None of that would have been possible without piracy. I’m wary that people are going to chirp that ‘iTunes isn’t piracy; that’s paying for music’. But I’m not defending the rebellious, destructive pirate. I wholly believe that pirating music is all about tasting it, discovering the vast amount of music out there, then giving back.
If you go on any torrent site, you’ll see people leaving comments saying ‘This is an incredible download – I’m going to buy it to support the artist’ – and that’s the point. If you go into a book shop, you’re allowed to read as many pages as you want before you buy it. In fact, you don’t even have to buy it. But no one charges you or sues you for thousands of pounds for doing so.
I believe that piracy is a good thing because it allows people to listen to music they otherwise don’t have the opportunity to listen to. I know for a fact that the hundreds of bands I’ve discovered in the past decade I would never have known and come to love if not for pirating. My point is that piracy is only a gateway, not an evil.
People have a special, intimate bond with music. Most fans would do anything to see their favourites live: and that alone generates millions for the artist and everyone else involved. If a person really loves a piece of music, I don’t think they’d hesitate to buy the music they’ve had for months to support the artist and show their appreciation, then go and see them when they tour.
Everyone’s a winner: the listener gets the best music, the artist gets paid and music continues to evolve in new and fascinating ways.
Everyone except the fat cat in the suit with the cigar.
No one could argue with the message ‘rejoice and love yourself today/’Cause … you were born this way’: such thinking is refreshing when contrasted with the glut of trite songs about heartbreak commonly found on the radio – that is, if one accepts that this song isn’t a platitude in itself. Personally, I do not think it is: I think ‘Lady Gaga’ (AKA Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – you can see why she chose the stage name) really means what she says. A gay icon and a global superstar by any definition, I have no qualms with her attempt to promote self-love in her listeners. Add to this her insatiable passion and she can cut quite the inspirational figure. This, in itself, is fine – no wonder she has so many millions of fans worldwide.
The problem I have, however, is not with the woman herself: it is with these ‘monsters’ of hers. ‘Just put your paws up,’ she orders: and the monsters obey. You can no longer escape from this collective bunch who, under orders from their ‘Mother Monster’ , spawn endless Gaga-inspired costumes, face-paint, hand gesticulations and other inane media.
This is more of a problem of ‘by extension’: anyone who obeys anyone is generally in trouble, and probably doesn’t quite grasp the full import of Lady Gaga’s message. None of her monsters were ‘born’ Lady Gaga fans – they were born people. Yet they devote themselves entirely to the worship of this icon. This is indicative of the almost-otherworldy, dystopian, celebrity-worshipping culture we are a part of. Indeed, by extension, the monsters stand for everything that is homogenous, unoriginal and uninspired about our civilisation.
‘We are all born superstars’, she sings; but how many ‘superstars’ do you know who spend all their time obsessing about another superstar? That is the definition of a fan, not a talent. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a fan: the world can’t all be full of talents without people to admire and support them. But I should not be allowed to use the term ‘worship’ without being checked: what do I mean by worship in this context?
I mean it with its full import: adoration; revere; devotion.
Monsters (and, by extension, those who promulgate celebrity culture by supposing that celebrities are something other than normal people – somehow better) define their meaning as part of the mass – subordinates – by way of looking up to these icons who lose their humanity via their wealth, influence and aura of fascination. It is as if people forget that their icons are as flawed as the rest of us, as if they actually believe Lady Gaga in thinking that celebrities were ‘born [that] way’.
The point is that they weren’t: and it is not even correct to criticise the celebrities themselves. They have risen to fame (for the most part – I am only referring to those ‘celebrities’ like Lady Gaga who have a talent – I have nothing but bile and disdain for Kim Kardashian-types) through hard work; reflecting on their lives and deciding that they were going to devote themselves to what they love by engaging with their passion. Through determination and a healthy dose of luck, they have made it: they weren’t born as anything other than a human being. They just had a drive and ambition that can’t be transmitted through the radio.
I think I can go out on a limb and state that Lady Gaga did not listen to lyrics like ‘you were born this way’ and then define her identity, or accept herself: she accepted herself long before anyone told her what to do, and it was only in her self-belief (rather than in worshipping anyone else) that she become the ‘mother’ of these monsters today (and a multi-millionairess to boot).
The problem is that the monsters do not seem to pierce the façade and attempt this reasoning: what are they waiting for? If they are content to simply grind through life and be told what to do, then perhaps this will fall on deaf ears: but if any of these monsters are in any way ambitious for an original or independent life then they need to accept Gaga’s message without being enslaved by her music, by being her monster, her possession: they need to define their own existence in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, not through Gaga’s all-encompassing message of self-love.
The business of living is a lot more complicated than following the imperatives embedded in the three-minute duration of a pop song.
You may have noticed that this is not so much a criticism of Lady Gaga as of her fans, or the society that props her up: in fact, I will go further. Lady Gaga has successfully used all around her to catapult to an incredible position, and I applaud her for that.
It is those who listen to (and worship) her unthinkingly that need stimulating. Those monsters wishing for success need to turn away from Lady Gaga’s image on the television screen, and into the mirror.
 Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’ [http://www.directlyrics.com/lady-gaga-born-this-way-lyrics.html]. All quotes taken from this song and source.
An article I wrote about my experiences at Oxford when I had my interview there in December 2010. Having mused on this topic for a long time, I am thinking of writing a longer piece — perhaps a story — on the topic: it is a very poignant memory still, and something that drives me to this day.
This was published in the first issue of this academic year for the Sussex University newspaper, the Badger.
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Who hasn’t looked at the university league tables? For many, it’s the first port of call when choosing a university. It’s hard to escape looking at the first results at the top of any uni guide: Oxford and Cambridge. Their status and prestige is undeniable. For many, they have no interest in going there; it wouldn’t suit them. But with more and more students achieving superlative grades, it’s no wonder that more potential undergraduates applied this year than ever before — necessitating the largest number of rejections in history.
Where do people go to talk about universities? The Student Room forums: the number one place to talk about universities in Britain. And if you spend any extended period of time browsing the threads, one word comes up over and over again: prestige. Indeed, upon googling ‘university prestige’, one of the first results is a thread on TSR which has someone bluntly declare ‘Let’s face it. Prestige is everything.’
Let us briefly remind ourselves of the current situation: the admissions departments of every university in the country were so overwhelmed this year due to the increased tuition fees for the ‘12/13 year that even UCAS itself crashed on the most important day of the year: the 18th of August, 2011. Results day. I saw so many stressed — and then mostly elated, but a few dejected — peers that I scarcely had time to think about my own results. I had made it into Sussex University to study Philosophy and English, but seeing close friends burst into tears because of their exam results completely overshadowed my experience that day. The real climax of my journey had actually ended on a gloomy day a week before last Christmas when I got my Oxford rejection letter.
What, exactly, is the the effect an Oxford application has on the applicant? It is multifaceted and in many ways, subtle, but this fact sums it all up: everyone from my college who applied for Oxford and didn’t get in genuinely considered not going to university that year and applying the next year just for achance to get in, regardless of the increased tuition fees. Illogical and depressing, that is the toxic nature of prestige at its worst.
So, why did I apply for Oxford in the first place? Because I wanted the best education possible. It was prescriptive, automatic, unthinking: if you want the best, you apply to Oxbridge. I’d dreamt of it many times in a vague fashion, without really thinking what it would be like. And so, I was thrust into what I call ‘my Oxford debacle’, assured that it was the right thing to do, like taking a medicine: if you want to get better, you must.
I took the ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test) on November 5th and passed with 67%: I had earned myself an interview. The elation I felt upon receiving that news is hard to express. But when I went to Oxford, I was struck by a strange dualism: whilst I was in awe of its history and importance, I didn’t feel comfortable there. The many times I’d dreamt about studying at Oxford didn’t prepare me for this philosophical nausea. My interviews reinforced this feeling. Whilst they didn’t go badly, I didn’t feel as though I expressed my personality at all; I was almost a shell of myself, unsure if I wanted to be there or not, as if I had a pill stuck to the back of my throat and didn’t know whether to swallow it or not. Lying in my room there, it felt like a sort of prison: I knew that it would be good for me to attend Oxford, but I started dreaming about my other option: Sussex. It seemed like a beacon of hope, somewhere that reflected my personality.
I wasn’t surprised when I received a letter a few days before Christmas telling me that my application was unsuccessful. In reality, I wouldn’t have suited Oxford: I didn’t bond with anyone there and I felt uncomfortable; I felt that when I told my interviewers that I was an aspiring poet and writer that the atmosphere in the room darkened. I was never going to get in. But I cannot deny the impact that not getting into Oxford had on me; it was an existential crisis the likes of which I have never felt before.
I won’t pretend that every time I pick up a book by Oxford University Press that I don’t wince, but Sussex has strengths that Oxford does not: a creative impetus not encouraged when I visited that great city, and a liberal mentality synonymous with Brighton.
Prestige is important to many, but there is a virtue Sussex University has, for me, that nowhere else comes close to.
It feels like home.