Steve Jobs' gift to the Church


Steve JobsRupert Murdoch may well outlive Steve Jobs, who last week announced his resignation from his role as CEO of Apple due to declining health. But Murdoch won't outlast the impact Jobs has had on the media and the communications industry.

Jobs has made five critical contributions of enduring importance. Apple II was the first personal computer, and with it came the transformation of publishing, thanks to software that allowed you to do it on your desktop. Apple also transformed film and video editing, producing affordable and accessible software that meant anyone could perform tasks that had previously been the preserve of professionals.

Later, the iPod transformed the music industry and saw an end to many revenue models. The iPhone changed telephony and the ways in which we access that ubiquitous source of information and exchange, the internet. And the iPad has transformed computing, by making that critical thing that the internet brings to computers — interaction — affordable and mobile.

Not bad. But what is even more significant than these breakthroughs is how Apple, under Jobs' direction, has led innovation and directed media innovation.

I'm old enough to remember what the publishing world was like before the advent of desktop publishing. That development compressed the work of five people — typist, compositor, editor, proof reader and layout artist — into the work of one.

This put publishing in the hands of any individual or institution that wanted to become its own information source, and produce its own material independent of production houses and printers. It also fuelled the rise of publishers, mastheads and brands that later held complete sway in the print media.

Add the internet to the mix and you can bypass established channels in order to distribute your own material. Everyone becomes their own publishing hub. The capacity that Apple brought to editing and producing audiovisual content meant that everyone could be a telecaster, too.

Most remarkably, Jobs and Apple have created tools for bulding things the world badly needs: interaction, connection and community. There are forces at work in modern culture that break relationships and divide communities. The tools Jobs and Apple offer, married to the channels of online communication, from email to Facebook, provide tangible means of building community upon positive, shared purposes.

Never mind that they can also be used to isolate individuals or provide a platform for the pompous to declaim at will. Religion can also be used to destroy community and human flourishing, falsifying the very purpose it was invented to foster. The potential for misuse does not negate the inherent benefits.

The developments initiated but not exhausted by Jobs and Apple are of profound significance for the Church. The Church is a community of relationships gathered about some central beliefs. Here is a virtual mechanism that can be used to build both: relationships, and a shared understanding of beliefs.

The US leads in all things IT: purchasing of equipment, web traffic, innovations. People adopt the technology differently from place to place, but they do adopt. For Australia, these tools and platforms provide an unmatched opportunity for groups, political movements, the Church, and anyone else who is interested in fostering a community of interest.

But these tools are also a threat for entities like political parties and the Church, which are more comfortable in less interactive contexts. The new technologies put the tools of communication in everyone's hands. Moreover, the social media so enthusiastically embraced by the Vatican and by others in political leadership, bring with them something that hierarchies are rarely comfortable with: feedback.

Facebook and other social networking platforms expose the leadership in any group to what people out there — in the suburbs, in the pews and beyond — actually say, think and feel. Nonetheless, the creation of a vibrant, participative and interactive community — something in which Steve Jobs and Apple played a key role — is just what democracies need, and what Vatican II envisaged for the Church.

Michael KellyFr Michael Kelly SJ is based in Bangkok as executive director of the Asian Catholic news agency UCAN.

Topic tags: Michael Kelly, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Jobs, Apple, iPad, iPhone, information technology



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Jobs is done but left his mark on every corner of wireless technology. It only leaves us asking who won the war between the two titans of modern computer technology? Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates / Apple vs. Microsoft– check out my rendering of an epic match-up of their cyborg selves on my artist's blog at

Brandt Hardin | 02 September 2011  

Great article. As a 70 year old fan of all the new technology - and especially if it is Apple - all I can say is that I hope the Vatican reads it and takes note.

Helen Gleeson | 02 September 2011  

Steve Jobs is a Magician; but a failure in the human cummunications. Single handedly he demolished individual human communication with toys which have reduced person to person communications. Try and communicate with a teenager while he is on the computer playing a game, communicating with 10 friends and listening to his Ipod all at once. The human Brain can only handle ONE task at a time, more then that and accuracy is lost. How much of this new age communication actually stays in the mind? Our next generation already communicate by texting and not by talking. How much of their humanity do they lose in so doing? For political parties, and religious

institutions, this new technology is a direct conduit into the Targeted Mind; but how much stays in the mind of the target? For the individual there are no benefits in this new technology, it only reduced their God given humanity - for Institutions it is a heaven sent instrument of direct targeting of a mind and influenicing it for its own purposes. I await to the day when a congregation sits in Church listening to the Sermon as Text on their Ipads.

Josh | 02 September 2011  

"these tools are also a threat for entities like political parties and the Church" Depends what your idea of "Church" is. If you regard the church as it's the people (ie.members), then I can't see how interactive media would be a threat. And if church leaders are threatened by people communicating, what sort of leaders are they? This article is a great plug for Apple though. Maybe Apple could do a marketing deal - iChurch? Apple logos on bishop mitres or the popemobile?

AURELIUS | 02 September 2011  

Josh, sorry you have got it all wrong. The new technology is a vehicle for better communication. My young daughter at 13 learnt how to handle teen squabbles and now at 18 does can avoid pitfalls that far more mature people fall into. My older daughter lives 3200km away and yet has a huge group of acquaintances and close friends who she is in contact with. Yes they still speak using traditional oral methods but unlike many in the older generation they are never lonely. Mobile phones, e-mail, chat lines and Facebook gives a depth and breadth of communication unequaled in the past and yes they do it much better then you or I could ever hope for. They are intelligent girls and they read, understand and retain the information just as well as your generation.

Eugene | 03 September 2011  


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