Roach: The Blue Screen of Death

Steve Jobs gave us a new world with the iPhone....
Roach: The Blue Screen of Death

It was like watching a pet die.

A moment after setting down my iPhone 6, a trusty, handy tool essential to my professional and personal life, it flickered. The home screen spontaneously spasmed, first locking, then going dark. Efforts to reboot the device merely accelerated what appeared to be a digital epileptic fit. I watched with concern as my device, which held all my most important information and art, struggled valiantly to remain alive.

Then it appeared, the image that users on the Apple help site warned me of: the Blue Screen of Death.

It was time to face the truth. My dear iPhone had reached hospice stage. It was dying. It fought weakly, flickered again. And then, after one final image of an exhausted battery, it died. Became inert. A brick. My iPhone had passed.

But can a machine die? Why does its inertness instill sadness and panic in me? Why should this thing cause me to imbue it with the same kind of anthropomorphic value once reserved only for Bambi?

In a case of true serendipity, as my iPhone lay dying, I was watching (on my iPad) the documentary Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine by Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney, the director who previously gave us such a withering look at Scientology. This time, he focused his lens on Steve Jobs, questioning why we have beatified the man who gave us the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. The mourning of his death rivaled that of John Lennon.

Why? As a man, Jobs, like Lennon, was glaringly fallible. He lied. He cheated friends. He denied for years, even in the face of DNA evidence, paternity of his daughter, Lisa. He regularly eviscerated employees in meetings, destroying them before their associates. For all his fortune, he gave little to charity. He even parked in the handicap parking space at the Apple offices.

And yet, Jobs was adored by many, and still is.

Why? Because he gave us magic.

As Edison gave us light, Jobs gave us a new world. He put the earth and stars and all its people, art, news and selfies right in our hand, ready to be accessed immediately at our whim.

Like it or not, Steve Jobs changed us irrevocably. Yet, as Gibney observed and we know, not all for good.

Now, instead of looking at the world and those around us with our heads and eyes up, we look down at our phone.

Recently, a gaggle of blonde sorority girls were caught on television cameras at a major league baseball game taking endless selfies of each other rather than watching the game, or even talking to each other, as if capturing their presence was more important than actually being with each other or at the game. And then when mocked for their behavior by the world, these same blondes smartly flipped the digital dynamic and urged everyone who clucked at them to donate to their sorority’s charity to stop domestic abuse. There are few better examples of the beast and beauty of our devices and the web.

I am an unabashed fan of my Apple devices, to the point of obsession. I revel in my connectedness, while relishing my ability to disconnect in a moment in a way that is infinitely easier than ducking out of a party or a tavern. I am grateful for the art I can access, and the immediate way I can talk to my children in Chicago and Los Angeles on FaceTime, miraculously drawing parental comfort from not only their voices, but also their faces.

I am always walking the line between smart use and excess, from having me rule my Apple devices rather than them ruling me.

But we cannot deny that intriguing, perhaps frightening reality that the voice of Siri and the brain of Google­–technologies that learn our personal preferences–mark a sign of a transition from our devices being ruled by us … to becoming us. They have the power to keep us alive on Facebook long after we are dead and gone.

At the end of his documentary, Gibney admitted that, despite Jobs’ failings, he still could not resist using his iPhone. He, like the rest of us, is amazed by what we can do, and what we are, with our machines.

Gibney’s final note on the magic of the iPhone was the most powerful. He suggested that you turn it off and gaze upon its screen to question what you see.

Whether you like it or not, you see yourself.