In Praise of Entrepreneurs

I won’t say that I would be the last person to praise Steve Jobs, Apple founder, but I’d certainly be way down the list.

I’ve never owned an Apple product. At the risk of heresy in these benighted times, I’ve always, when forced to use any product by that company, found them annoying, and I’ve never purchased anything from iTunes. But similarly, because I grew up as the son of a GM executive, I’ve never owned a Ford product, but I can nonetheless recognize Henry Ford (even ignoring his ideological shortcomings) as a great force in the history of not just transportation, but in transforming a nation, increasing its wealth and freedom beyond measure.

So despite my personal lack of appreciation for his inventions, I appreciate Steve Jobs as a brilliant technological visionary, and I recognize him as the kind of person who truly changes the world.

As I wrote at my blog, almost ten years ago (and not long after its founding — frightening to think that this month is my decadal bloggiversary):

I came to realize that the true revolutionaries were not people marching to the barricades, or theorizing about social philosophies in Ann Arbor or Berkeley or Paris cafes, or even the small subset of such people who actually somehow came to political power. The true revolutionaries were the technologists -- those who solved societal needs not by attempting to forcibly rearrange society against human will, but rather by giving individuals new tools that allowed them to reorder their own lives within those constraints.

Gutenberg almost single-handedly (and probably unintentionally) overthrew much of the power structure of his time. Mssrs. Winchester and Colt, and the fellow who invented barbed wire, had as great an impact on the American West as Thomas Jefferson, and more than any politician from the region. Arguably, few politicians had as much impact on the twentieth century as Henry Ford, or Orville and Wilbur Wright, or Armstrong, prolific inventor of the modern radio, or Turing and von Neumann and Noyce and Jobs and Gates, and all the others who gave us the modern information revolution.

When a history of the late twentieth century is written decades or centuries from now, it seems likely to me that John F. Kennedy will be noted as “a minor politician during the era of von Braun.”