‘Planet of the Apes,’ Steve Jobs and us

It occurred to me while watching the new Planet of the Apes movie Saturday night that humanity may have annoyed Steve Jobs. He gives them a palm-sized device capable of accessing all man’s accumulated knowledge instantaneously and we use it to take pictures of our schvantzes.

This must have been infuriating.

I’ve always been curious about how the intellectual elite view us, the groundlings. Steve Jobs invents the iPhone and we can’t figure out how to eat without biting the fork. Maybe that’s why Howard Hughes went insane.

“No, it’s OK,” Jobs might have said to himself when he ventured among the plebs. “You continue to chew with your mouth open, stand idly in doorways and stick your fingers over the glass partition at Chipotle instead of using your words because, clearly, you haven’t touched a doorknob today. Don’t worry about it. The partition’s for everyone else, not you. I’ll just be over here, making your lives easier with math.”

I think the smartest people must be repulsed by humanity but to function in society they never tell us how they really feel. I thought of this while watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar is the ape, intellectually superior to his every peer and ancestor. A few times during the movie, he had a look on his face like: Damn it, you guys.

Somewhere around the time a bonobo drives a tank — and just before the bonobo rides a horse through a wall of fire while double-fisting M-16s — I thought about someone being so smart that it’s impossible for them to function as a day-to-day human. They evolve to a point where popular morality no longer means anything to them and they feel no moral responsibility for the rest of us in steerage.

What if someone invented a jetpack, a teleportation machine or an anti-gravity device and just decided, “You know what? They’re not worth it. Look what they did with their iPhones.”

Of course, we have ways of making our geniuses cure cancer, notably, money. We may not be able to invent our own futures but we can pay someone else to do it. $199 for an iPhone 5s with a two-year contract? Sure. Because I have to Instagram this sandwich.

Humans also, for the most part, but often only situationally, like to help other humans. If we always liked to help others, everyone would have Warren Buffett’s healthcare plan, and that persistent human trait of wanting to divvy everyone into castes wouldn’t exist.

But if someone had evolved beyond our basic moral objectivism and ordinary human yens, perhaps money wouldn’t matter. Maybe this alpha-and-omega genius just couldn’t be bothered with the plutocratic allure because he exists outside the third dimension and sees everything in the eternal present, kind of like Dr. Manhattan. He was so beyond being a general-issue human, he didn’t even wear pants.

This person wouldn’t be evil — although we may perceive him as evil — he’s just unconcerned. And probably a little judgmental.

Sometimes, I feel guilty. I have an iPhone but I don’t know how it works. I could never build one and I don’t know if I could imagine one if it didn’t already exist. Even great science-fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke failed to predict things like digital photography. In Clarke’s 1955 novel Earthlight, we have colonized the solar system but still use a dark room to develop pictures.

I don’t think I did anything to earn my phone, the Internet, the internal-combustion engine, satellites, high definition or automated car washes. I mooch upon the genius of the few and I wonder if Steve Jobs, maybe like Caesar in the ape mess hall, ever looked around in Chipotle and just thought, “Gross.”


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