An open letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Steve,

You should understand first of all: I have no intention of filing for divorce. We’ve been together too long to even contemplate the horrific alternatives. However, I do think we need to see a counselor. Someone who can help us communicate, because I’m feeling ignored and disregarded.

In your current incarnation, you sit on my lap pretty much all day long. There’s a lot of heat between us, but you do your best to keep things cool while I’m working. Together we have written (over the years): one doctoral dissertation, a couple dozen academic articles, two full length academic books, numerous class plans, evaluations, recommendations; newspaper editorials and magazine articles and letters to the editor; short stories; seven novels currently in print (more than a million words, please note); two more forthcoming. You were with me every step of the way when I wrote Homestead, which won the PEN/Hemingway award. You are the keeper of my family history, my banking records, my daughter’s childhood memories, all my music, my entire calendar and all my contacts. If I had to estimate, I would guess that I have written or received a million emails in the last ten years.

You are indispensible. I am very happy to admit that. We make an excellent team. But recently I note you are distracted. Or should I say, more distracted than usual.

I am technically monogomous, but you are not and have never been. For many years this arrangement worked very well. On the rare occasion I had to call you at work, your assistants answered promptly and made sure that you understood what was needed. We functioned so well together that we never had the little hiccups that send other couples for advice. I have a neighbor who has had a partnership with a Windows computer for a long time, but even now I still hear her screaming obscenities in her frustration and anger.

You’ve come a long way, and I appreciate the effort that has gone into the advances. But your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have time for your loyal, long-time relationships. And it shows. For example: for three weeks now I have been calling you at work and talking to people at the technical assistance office.

By the way, the telephone number to call for technical assistance is well and truly hidden. I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to avoid my calls.

I have spent at least three hours on hold. While I am on hold, there is the most horrendous music. You force me to listen to 80s big hair bands, and to add insult to injury, the quality of transmission is very poor. It fades in and out, full of static. Having to listen to this hold music is more than most people can bear.

I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to get me off the phone once I’ve found the number.

That first call I spoke to a young man who was helpful, but curt. Very well, I understand you are busy. I explained the problem thus: Please tell Steve that the plug that inserts into my PowerBook G4 is frayed and breaking, and could he please bring me a new one on his way home? Specifically, I am talking about the end of the cord that plugs into the computer. The young man went away; I waited another twenty minutes listening to that horrendous noise you call easy listening. He came back, and at that moment we were cut off. I hoped he would call me back, or complete the work order on his own. A week later I gave up this childish idea and called again. Again I waited at least a half hour, and again (it’s painful to recall this) I was subjected to torture by Van Halen and Nirvana. The young woman who finally came on the line looked up the record of my earlier call, finished writing down whatever it was she needed to pass on to you, and promised that I would have the replacement part within a few days. All my doubts about our relationship disappeared this morning when I found the box propped against my door. You do still care! I opened it immediately, and stood there, shocked. You sent me the wrong cord/plug. I asked for the part that plugs into the computer, and you sent me the part that plugs into the wall.

Your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have any time for your loyal, long-time friends.

On the website there was no place to record this mistake or ask for a solution. With trembling hands I dialed the support number again. That was at about 3:30pm today. After a half hour on hold (nails on a blackboard? child’s play) I spoke to a polite young man who looked at the history of this problem and told me that the new part had been dispatched. Yes, I said. I received it this morning. It is the wrong part. You received the power cord? I received the power cord, but what I need is the other end of the cord. The end that plugs into the computer, that is what I need. After five minutes of discussion about the difference between the plug that fits into the computer and the plug that fits into the wall socket, he declared himself prepared to send me to dispatch where the problem could be rectified. I pointed out that dispatch had sent the part they had been told (erroneously) to send. Really, it made no sense to transfer me to dispatch. Could I speak to a supervisor? Please?

I was on hold for twenty minutes, waiting for dispatch. Finally I was connected to Jay, who was not from dispatch at all. He works in one of the Texas offices as a parts specialist. Jay was very helpful and polite. He promised to send me the right plug immediately. He did need my credit card number, in case I didn’t send the old part back. (And why would I want to hold onto a fraying, overheated plug?

I can’t believe you’d use such a weak excuse to get my credit card number. I can’t believe you NEED my credit card number. I have bought at least a dozen computers over the last fifteen years, as well as every other kind of hardware and a rich selection of software — and, most relevant of all: I have bought the extended Apple Care protection for every computer. Including your current incarnation, with the fraying plug-that-goes-into-the-computer. Steve, love of my technical life, you should know my credit card number by heart.)

It is now 4:41 and I just got off the phone with Jay. I hope you understand that I open this discussion out of affection, respect and appreciation. It is not my intention to hurt you, but please. Can we please have a return to the days when you didn’t keep me waiting for hours at a time? When I didn’t feel like one in a harem of a thousand? Your little i-friends are very cute, but do they write award-winning novels? Or novels of any kind at all. When people say to me that you only have twelve percent of your market, I always respond the same way: you can say the same of Mercedes-Benz. You are excellent, but you are also drifting away from me.

Would you like to make an appointment with a counselor, or should I?

Your affectionate partner Rosina Lippi

19 Replies to “An open letter to Steve Jobs”

  1. Oh, me no likey that quote. Besides the fact that spending a whole lot of one’s time “proving” anything (unless one is a mathematician or a scientist) sounds terribly unappealing to me, it definitely seems to place the writer in a privileged position, doesn’t it (and I say this as someone who writes for a living)? Reversing the implication, does that mean anyone else of talent would immediately recognize the writer in this instance? Talk about a circular argument!

  2. It is odd, isn’t it? At first it seems to be a bit of elitist snobbery and then it turns out not to mean anything at all.

  3. It reminds me of the “They’re just jealous.” defense to various etiquette infractions. Doesn’t make any profession sound worth spending time doing well if the audience can’t appreciate the outcome. Is there more context?

  4. I’m sure there is context, but I don’t have it. I just saw this on a collection of quotes about writing.

    Sometime I have to put together a collection of quotes that sound profound but are in fact pretty dopey. This would be on the list.

  5. After overanalyzing the quotation, I do agree it comes off as elitist snobbery, but I sense it’s that the author feels he’s under-appreciated by his readers, that perhaps maybe they do not understand what a great talent he was or the hard work it entails to keep coming up with brilliant work.

    or something like that.

  6. As a grant writer I think my job is too mystified for that statement to work. Few people understand what I do, except the people that review the grants and maybe not even them.

  7. At first it seems to be a bit of elitist snobbery and then it turns out not to mean anything at all.

    At the level of the statement itself, you’re absolutely right. But maybe it’s the kind of statement that means something to the “wrong” people? I have this line in my head, “it offends the right sort of people,” but can’t remember where in the hell it comes from (book or movie) and what the context is. But it came to mind when I read your comment.

  8. Loved the letter, now I don’t own a MAC (yet) so I admit, I thought you were talking about the plug in the wall too! How can you have them separated? What goes in the computer goes into the wall as well right? or is that different with MAC?

    You’re a riot Rosina!!!

  9. ick, macs. i hate macs. i am a pc girl ALL DA WAY. i’ve never had any problems that my dad (a former digital-compaq-HP employee) couldn’t fix, no hours on a phone with bad music…i bet HP has better music.
    macs make me hyperventilate.
    pcs are calming and simple and fun.

    go buy yourself a presario :-P

  10. I hope you have sent the letter Rosina. Really. Any organisation worth its salt needs to know these things.
    As for hold music, in this technological age where it seems impossible to telephone any organisation without the inevitable hold… why can’t they say, ‘you may be on hold for some time. At the prompt please press 1 to listen to modern jazz while you wait, 2 to listen to EMO while you wait, 3 to listen to REO-Speed-Foreigner while you wait’ etc.
    Even better, since you are on hold for so long, perhaps a selection of short stories would be suitable.
    One of my friends was on hold with a telecom company a couple of years ago and somehow or other ended up in a sort of a ‘group hold’. There were about 4 other people on hold who could hear each other and struck up quite a conversation.

  11. Shaina: I am a loyal mac person, and always will be. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a mac (twenty years ago).

    I’m a little put out with Mr. Jobs at this moment, but all in all I would never trade my mac for the disaster that is windows.

    If you didn’t have a father who can fix things for you, what would you have done?

    Every once in a while a friend will say to the Mathematician: You do a lot of work with computers. I’m having trouble with Vista (or whatever), you have any suggestions?

    And he answers, very kindly: Yes, I do. My suggestion is you reformat your hard drive and install Linux.

  12. I have to say, I’m with Shaina on this one. I’ve worked with macs and pc’s, and I vastly prefer the pc. Apple makes products that are aesthetically pleasing but not very user-friendly. Any problem I’ve ever had with a pc I’ve been able to fix myself.

    And my husband (an electronic engineer) says the same thing about Linux, plays around with it on our desktop, then uses Windows on my laptop when he needs to really get something done fast. :)

  13. Beth: I guess that’s a draw. The Mathematician scorns Windows; your Engineer likes Windows.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on the usability issue, as well. I will admit, though: Microsoft is making some progress. With every new incarnation, Windows looks more and acts more like a Mac.

    They do say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

  14. Thanks, Rosina, you made me laugh outloud. I needed that today.

    I didn’t say the engineer likes Windows, rather that he scorns it and then secretly uses it like a junkie in need of a fix.

  15. My best bud, Billy Gates, treats me the same way with his software!

    I recently had to purchase a laptop for a volunteer group. I talked with 3 different laptop providers. I’m here to tell you that part of my decision was based on the responses those people gave me. Customer service is very high on my list of what I expect and require from pc providers. One was a dog, one was ok, and one was excellent. Um, guess which one I bought from. It was also the best price, and the best quality pc.

  16. Wolfy, I use a Sony TR5 laptop (I believe it’s a predecessor to the version you’re asking about) — love it. Sony puts a lot of crap on their out of the box stuff. That’s my only complaint, but some of their “crap” isn’t half bad.

    As a long-time legitimate Windows user, Mr. Gates has taken to insulting me on a regular basis by insisting on checking to make sure I’m only using his authorized versions of software before he’ll let me interact with him. I hear Vista is even worse. I’m not going there.

    I wanted to love Linux. On the few instances I achieved a successful installation, I was never able to discern how to install or use software with it. I’ve set it aside. Maybe on my Athlon 750 box…

    I’ve heard devoted Mac fans fawn over their machines for years. Back in Apple II days and when the very first Mac came out, I was completely unable to even figure out how to open a file (I’m a long-time electronics tech, computer technician, and network administrator, so this was extremely frustrating). I’ve been much more successful with PC-based systems.

    Then I got an iPod. They worked pretty well. A few quirks but generally, I loved the little devices (see, I now have two of the little iToys and am pondering two of the latest additions to the family). That, coupled with the Mac lovers and my increasing disenchantment with Windows, has prompted me to plan my next computer purchase to be a MacBookPro. Like you, Rosina, I’m mildly put out by Mr. Jobs’ distraction with the iToys. I had heard wondrous things about Leopard. Then I heard it was delayed six months, so they could focus on the iPhone. I suppose it will all work out ok.

    Try not to be too hard on the iToys. Their cross-over availability in the Windows market created the opportunity for me to rethink my views and has resulted in my making plans to make the switch to Mac in the next year and a half.

  17. Jean — I don’t think you’ll regret the switch. The current incarnation of Mac laptops really are top notch machines, and I can guarantee you won’t have any trouble opening files or finding things.

    Maybe they’ll ask you to do one of those little I Switched interviews for their website. That would be fun.

    And a confession: Seven years or so ago, when Apple was in bad shape and people were predicting its imminent demise, I knew in my gut that they were wrong. I was so sure of it that we bought as much Apple stock as we could afford at the time. Then Jobs came back, iPod launched… and the investment has paid off royally. So I can’t complain about the iFriends or iToys. I just wish they didn’t have to neglect the non-toy people so obviously.

  18. Oh wow. I hate being on hold for anything. I always feel like sending them my phone bill to pay too since I spend so long on hold.

    I hope you get the right cord this time.

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