We are living in bizarre times. Cows are eating candy instead of corn because of the crop-devastating drought. And now this: While Steve Jobs’s house was undergoing renovation, a man broke in and stole a bunch of stuff—iPads, iPods, and iMac… you know, all the stuff you would expect to find in the house of the deceased Mac guru. The suspect then gave an iPad to a friend of his—Kenny the Clown. For a few months, Kenny used the iPad to provide backing music for his act: he played the Pink Panther theme song and some Michael Jackson classics. He had no idea that he was using Steve Jobs’s personal device. It’s just so picturesque: a clown with his cotton candy hair playing cotton candy music for the cotton candied children on the personal iPad of Apple’s mad scientist himself. I couldn’t resist thinking that this situation was too perfect.
In reality, Kenny the Clown is not the only “clown” with Steve Jobs’s devices. Back when I taught high school, I used to engage my students in a thought experiment to help them understand their place in the world. I would tell them, “Imagine if the few people in the world that invent things and maintain them were all to die mysteriously. How long do you think it would take before the whole world became largely primitive?” I would get puzzled looks. So I would start asking specific questions. “Raise your hand if you own an iPod.” Most kids raised their hands; I raised my hand. “Raise your hand if you understand how it works. If you could fix yours if it broke. If you know how to make one.” Of course, no one raised a hand. “Raise your hand if you know how to sew.” No hands. “Raise your hand if you know how to make cloth from raw cotton.” No hands. “Raise your hand if you could grow cotton.” I went down the list of all the things we use every day and take for granted: microwaves, dishwashers, cars, shoes, plastic everything, books, etc. None of us knew how to make these things, or how to fix them. There are few people in the world that know these things, actually. My goal with the experiment was to encourage the kids to learn something useful. And to realize that living in a first-world country doesn’t automatically make you a first-world person. Most of us are actually cavemen in reality. We have more computing power in our iPods than was used to send men to the moon. And what do we use these devices for? Games, entertainment, facebooking. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with these things. I just want to see the youths in this country, and the adults for that matter, get serious.
Kenny the Clown seems like a pretty cool guy. Most Mac users who have heard this story probably think it is ridiculous that he put this “sacred” object to such trivial uses. But we do it everyday. I’m probably doing it right now. Like I said, we are living in bizarre times. None of us knows how very much potential we regularly subject to silly ends. How great our responsibility is for how little we do with the much we have.