The End of the Jobs Era

Steve Jobs

The Internet has been inundated with stories about Steve Jobs' resignation as CEO of Apple.

Harry McCracken at The Technologizer looked back at the press coverage from the first time Jobs left Apple, in 1985, and found that much of the coverage suggested that Jobs' (unwilling) departure would not be too serious, and might even be beneficial to Apple.  Now, however, the press is singing a different tune, and it goes something like "Steve Jobs is the greatest genius in the history of [at minimum] the computer industry."

Many have weighed in on Steve Jobs' historical significance - giving him credit for convincing people to pay for content, and even transforming the nature of the WebNewsweek called him "a wizard among muggles."

Certainly Jobs has retired from his position at the top of his game, leaving behind an enormously profitable company that has produced a novel and unique blend of consumer electronics, computing, media, and telecommunications.

Yet the media's Jobs-o-philia seems to me amplified by the anonymity of the designers and engineers at Apple who have made its products possible.  Who can name a single member of the technical team on the iPod, iPhone, or iPad--the latter-day Woz's to Jobs' Jobs?  Steven Shapin's lowly "invisible technician"'s abound, but all the credit falls to the only visible figure.  

The tendency to credit Jobs for all of Apple's accomplishments both draws from and reinforces a general skew in popular discourse (especially in discussions of business) towards a "great man" theory of history.  What do you think--does the press exaggerate the importance of figures like Jobs (and Gates), or are they in fact critical history-makers?