‘Tech moguls like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are part of the long held myth of the American entrepreneur’



Why do we celebrate Steve Jobs the “visionary,” who “created” the Mac personal computer, “revolutionized” the music industry with the iPod, and “gave humanity” the smartphone? Why do we remember the legend of the hero who “built one of the most successful companies on the planet from his garage” – that of his home in Los Altos, California, in 1975 – as Barack Obama once described? Other narratives could be proposed, even a “counter-history” of Apple, as written by Anthony Galluzzo, in The Myth of the Entrepreneur. Undoing the imaginary of Silicon Valley (La Découverte, 232 pages, €20.50, “The Myth of the Entrepreneur: Undoing the imaginary Silicon Valley”), published on January 12.

We could have chosen to focus on Steve Wozniak and the computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, where that engineer was employed when he designed the first prototype of the Apple I; or the Homebrew Computer Club, a collective of hackers whose work on democratizing the personal computer inspired Mr. Wozniak; or Mike Markkula, a young tech millionaire who, in 1976, pushed Mr. Wozniak and Mr. Jobs to patent Apple computers and used his networks to raise the first funds, noted Mr. Galluzzo, a lecturer in management science at the University of Saint -Etienne and a specialist in market imagination and consumer culture.

The author acknowledged that the iconic bosses of American tech are part of a long tradition: the myth of the American entrepreneur has persisted since the end of the 19th century and the era of “barons” like Andrew Carnegie, John Davison Rockefeller or Thomas Edison. “By setting the scene for the great entrepreneurs of the railroad, the steel industry or oil, (…) by personifying, staging, and dramatizing, newspapers and magazines have given meaning to the confused and anonymous movements of capitalist society,” he wrote. In that an individualist ethic was born, one which promised the possibility of becoming a self-made man going from rags to riches.

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From ‘robber barons’ to nerds

One could object that the deconstruction of the myth of Silicon Valley bosses is already well underway: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, or Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, have already seen their public images and those of their companies damaged in the media in recent years. At Google or Microsoft, the founders have moved on. And the digital giants now resemble more closely streamlined and cost-conscious large corporations such as IBM, which Apple in its heyday castigated as a bureaucratic repellent.

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