Morality of Computing Luminaries

Steve-Jobs-and-Mark-ZuckerbergAfter reading about four prominent computing luminaries, Richard Stallman, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, I have come to the conclusion that Zuckerberg is the most moral individual and Steve Jobs is the least. I do not consider myself a capable judge of human character, so I will describe to you the basis for my judgment. I will focus on three areas of the lives of Zuckerberg and Jobs: commitment to family, their personal mission, and philanthropy. I would like to precede the heart of this post with a bible verse to further clarify that I am not qualified to judge these exceptional technologists.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?                     – James 4:11-12 (NIV)

I believe a commitment to family outside of work is a moral obligation of luminaries in any field. In the case of Mark Zuckerberg, it is clear in “A Letter to our Daughter” that Mark and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are dedicated to being loving parents. I would like to say that I admire the commitment of Mark to raise Max despite his important role in Facebook. However, I simply expect that a father would always be there for his child, no matter what pressing business he may have. This is one area that I believe Steve Jobs failed to focus on in his life.

In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, the upbringing of Jobs is depicted as not the ordinary childhood. He resents his biological parents for putting him up for adoption and I believe that may have affected him for the rest of his life. When Chrisann Brennan gave birth to Steve’s daughter, Lisa, he publicly denied being the father. Even after a paternity test resulted in a 94% chance Steve was the father, he argued that someone else could still be the father. Jobs eventually came around and tried to reconcile with his daughter Lisa, but he missed so much of her life that cannot be brought back by a multi-million dollar inheritance. In addition to Steve’s poor relationship with his daughter, he was described by his wife, Laurene Powell, as very focused and standoffish at times. Jobs difficulty with intimate relationships may have stemmed from resentment for his biological parents, but I still believe he is responsible for failing to fulfill his obligation to family during his lifetime.

Zuckerberg clearly outlines his mission for the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative in “A Letter to our Daughter”. Mark and Priscilla have goals to advance human potential and promote equality. These are both admirable, moral goals that led me to my decision that Zuckerberg was the most moral individual. More importantly, I think Zuckerberg is using Facebook to help the world achieve these goals. He has created a platform to connect the world so that an idea in one part of the world can reach a bright mind in another part of the world and people of opposite cultures can connect. I believe Zuckerberg has genuinely committed his talent of connecting people to make a positive change in the world.

Steve Jobs mission, as depicted in his biography, was to create beautiful products with seamlessly integrated hardware and software products. Jobs was portrayed as a perfectionist who cared about the beauty of the motherboard circuitry and design of the boxes for retailing Apple products. He was involved in every aspect of his company – from design to distribution. His goal was to create the most perfect suite of technology products on the market. Indeed he did, as an owner of many Apple products I consider myself a benefactor of the persistent attention to detail of Steve Jobs. However, I do not consider his mission to be one of strong moral fiber. Jobs did not create a product for the masses, for his product is limited to those who can afford higher echelon technology. Although an admirable product was developed, Jobs was not driven by moral concerns.

With regards to philanthropy, Zuckerberg has been in the headlines very recently. Mark and Priscilla have pledged 99% of their Facebook shares (approximately $45 billion) to charity. I believe this act was derived from compassion and humility. Zuckerberg truly believes that his mission for society can be achieved and he is willing to donate 99% of his shares to help make it happen. He acknowledges that his contribution is small compared to the current resources committed to making change, but he also offers his voice and influence as CEO of Facebook to the cause. One thing that is missing from Jobs’s legacy is philanthropy. In searching online, it is hard to find a publicized charitable contribution made by Steve Jobs or Apple. Maybe he made his donations quietly and chose to remain outside of the public eye, maybe he drew up plans to make contributions after his death, or maybe philanthropy was not part of his plan. We will have to wait and see…



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