Steve Jobs joins pantheon of great American innovators
The Apple CEO was the latest in a line of industrialists to personify his country's reckless energy, urge to innovate and love of the mass market, says Justin Webb
Americans boast about the wrong stuff. Their industrial heritage, in particular, they underplay. I put it down to Kurt Vonnegut, who writes of one of his characters in the great novel, 'Slaughterhouse-Five': "Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops."
Ouch. Americans' respect for Steve Jobs and men like him exists in a modern world in which true admiration for what he achieved -- and the environment that created him -- is not so boundless. Teenagers glued to technology may be mourning his death in a manner more associated with a pop star -- as Facebook pages will attest -- but these days consumerism is anything but king. Americans are taught to be ashamed of their relentless desire for stuff. Substitute Apple stores for gift shops and Vonnegut still wounds.
So, if you ask Americans what they are proudest of, they tend to play it safe: the constitution and the military. Wars are out of bounds now but they certainly have a heck of a way with elections, as George Bush might have said. From school board to president, they vote 'em in and vote 'em out again. Their democracy is vigorous, sometimes a touch crazy and steeped -- many Americans believe -- in too much cash, but it suits them.