Netizens across the world mourn Steve Jobs’ death

In Consent of the Networked (whose manuscript was finalized in mid-August before Jobs stepped down and then passed away), I am critical of Apple and its approach to app censorship, its general lack of openness, and the potential long-term implications for freedom and democracy. Soon after Jobs announced his retirement and not long before he passed away, my friend Christine Bader wrote about the serious environmental and labor problems that stain Jobs’ legacy.

That said, there is no question that Jobs’ leadership and vision transformed not only personal computing but hundreds of millions of people’s relationship with technology. People all over the world have good reason to feel strongly about the ways in which Apple computers and devices have enriched their lives. The emotional depth of the global reaction to his death has been stronger and more personal than global responses to the deaths of most world leaders. He touched the lives of all kinds of people in the most intimate and tangible ways. As I pointed out in the most recent edition of The Netizen Report, one pseudonymous Chinese Internet user spotted by the Wall Street Journal remarked: “This is the first time a foreigner’s death has been hard for me to take.” (See more Chinese netizen reaction here.) Global Voices rounded up reactions to Jobs’ death from Africa, the Arab world, and the Caribbean. The dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about how Jobs’ persistence and ingenuity in the face of his own hardships inspired her to persist in building her own home-made computer in the 1990’s with which she eventually produced a university newsletter. Not all tributes are positive:  Bloggers in Brazil, for instance, criticized Apple’s lack of openness.

Global Voices’ Fred Petrossian linked to this cartoon by the famous Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani:


Fred’s translation: “An old man says to the ‘Angel of Death’ there are many dinosaurs in Iran and you go after ‘red apples’.”

This speaks to a point I make in the first chapter of my book about how new kinds of global constituencies are forming around certain brands of hardware, software, and virtual platforms created by multi-national companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter. Members of these global constituencies can hold strong and even emotionally-charged loyalties towards technologies that they have integrated into their lives and even identities. These overlapping loyalties and constituencies will increasingly compete and clash with loyalties and identities tied to the physical nation-state.

No government – not even the Western ones claiming to champion Internet freedom – is equipped to deal with the long-term consequences of this trend. But that doesn’t mean that we should leave it to the world’s multi-national technology companies to refashion global geopolitics to their own liking just because so many governments are not getting it right. We the world’s netizens must work to make sure that the Internet, the geopolitical system, and the international economy evolve in a way that serves everybody’s rights and interests, not just those of the most powerful one percent.

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