I was able to watch a movie this past weekend about the man who brought us the light bulb because he also invented the movie camera! Edison the Man starring Spencer Tracy did in fact bring good things to light about a man who literally lived to bring good things to life! And I think it’s fair to say that life without Thomas Alva Edison would most likely have meant a life without Steve Jobs, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad! Imagine…
In fact, I’ll take it a step beyond fair and offer the following observations to develop a rather disturbing before and after picture of America. First, I wonder if we might agree that without the Edison’s to build America, there is no America to build a Jobs! Accepting that, I think if we take a closer look at who these two men were, we may discover that the very ingredients that make up the formula for the great illuminations of our past turn out to be the missing ingredients on our present path to a much darker future.
Edison, who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan developed his entrepreneurial skills in order to meet the needs of his family. A “free thinker” inspired by Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason as a young man, he was accused of being an Atheist because of his defending Paine’s “scientific deism”…but he quickly set the record straight by publicly affirming his belief in a supreme intelligence. Committed to non-violence, he served his country during WWI as a consultant to the Navy by agreeing to work on defensive weaponry only. Best known for giving us the light bulb, he was a prolific inventor who also brought us the phonograph, motion picture camera and held over 1,093 US patents to other inventions as well!
In 1928, Edison joined the Fort Myers Civitan Club. He believed strongly in the organization, writing that “The Civitan Club is doing things —big things— for the community, state, and nation, and I certainly consider it an honor to be numbered in its ranks.”
The vast multiplication of voluntary organizations for altruistic purposes are themselves proof of the ferment of spirituality, service, and mutual responsibility. These associations for advancement of public welfare, improvement, morals, charity, public opinion, health, the clubs and societies for recreation and intellectual advancement, represent something moving at a far greater depth than “joining.” They represent the widespread aspiration for mutual advancement, self-expression, and neighborly helpfulness.
On the other hand, we have Steve Jobs who may have been Edison’s equal as a visionary but he lacked many of Edison’s social and civic qualities. He was an anti-authoritarian who was born into a counter-culture era that rejected most of the social values that Edison had embraced. He was, at best, religiously uncommitted and confused…leaning towards the existence of God only at the end of his life.
When we study the lives of the Fords and Edison’s, we find Americana…a deep abiding spirit that is American first. They knew, understood and appreciated the blessings of their American Exceptionalism…that in fact, America was the only place in the world where their dreams could have been nurtured to fruition! Love of Country and Civic Pride were baked into the Fords and Edison’s…the very qualities that defined them and most Americans of their time. Edison and his peers dined on failure as if it were a gourmet meal before they tasted success. They knew nothing of entitlement!
Tragically, these were also the very same qualities that were bred out of an entire generation of Jobs and Zuckerbergs as meaning little more than a zip code to them. Thank you Public Education! Genius moored to what? Ford and the Edison gave us America. Jobs and Zuckerberg have given us a new zip code in Zuccotti Park…and a lost legion of self-absorbed Ringwraiths fixated on their hand-held devices…attacking the very system that made the object of their fixation possible. 🙂