In defense of Steve Jobs' 'grouchy' emails

Steve Jobs gets criticized for the rude tone of his emails. But, really, shouldn't some of his customers take some responsibility too?

In a blog called The grouchy side of Steve Jobs, Mike Krumboltz tells the story of Long Island University journalism student Chelsea Kate Isaacs and an unfortunate email exchanges with Steve Jobs.

It seems Isaacs had tried repeatedly to call Apple's PR department to get a quote for a class project she was working on regarding the iPad's use in the classroom. When she failed in that endeavor, she emailed Jobs directly.

Here's her email:

"Mr. Jobs, I humbly ask why Apple is so wonderfully attentive to the needs of students, whether it be with the latest, greatest invention or the company's helpful customer service line, and yet, ironically, the Media Relations Department fails to answer any of my questions which are, as I have repeatedly told them, essential to my academic performance."

His answer:

"Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry."

I fail to see the issue here. Was Jobs a little curt? Perhaps, but I have to say, "Grouch away Steve!"

(And no, I don't own an iPad or a Mac so I'm not speaking from some kind of blind Apple love here. I'm just a firm advocate of crabbiness when and if the situation calls for it.)

I could be a little biased (and maybe a little bitter) after eight years toiling in the savage, war-torn land of Blogville, but here's the deal: First of all, she didn't "humbly" ask anything. She was being sarcastic by nature of the very wording of the email. She was inherently criticizing a perceived shortcoming in the way the man's company is run. Her email was snarky so why should his response be any less so?

And, really, did she expect the CEO of a multinational company with over $42 billion in annual sales to go scold his PR department for not taking time to have a thoughtful conversation with a student trying to ace Journalism 101? And what does it say about Miss Isaacs perceived value as the center of the universe that she would expect Jobs to apologize for his PR team's apparent disregard for her needs when his company serves a bajillion customers?

It didn't stop there of course. Isaacs emailed Jobs again, clarifying that she wasn't looking for the company's help in getting a good grade, she just wanted a comment. Jobs replied: "We have over 300 million users and we can't respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry."

Personally I admire his restraint in this attempt to add some perspective to Issac's life view. He probably should have begun with this reply and maybe he could have avoided being demonized all over the web. Of course, Isaacs wrote back, explaining that she was an Apple customer with a problem -- the PR department wouldn't talk to her.

At this point I would have slammed my head against my monitor about ten times and just let it go. But I guess Jobs lacks the supreme self-control that I have, because he replied to her: "Please leave us alone."

Krumboltz's blog also relays another instance of Jobs' apparent email rudeness with a story a customer who wrote to Jobs to complain about the new iTunes logo, which he believed isn't as good as the old one. Jobs' reply: "We disagree."

Customers and readers have the advantage of getting to see only the end-results of complex processes. Sometimes they forget the months of work that came before it. They often don't take in mind the multitude of details involved in giant tech undertakings. So for someone to complain about the look of a logo is like a patient who has undergone complicated heart surgery that has saved his life and then asking his surgeon why the scar isn't smaller.

Unfortunately, our society breeds in people the attitude that everyone else should consider them as important as they consider themselves. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. It would be nice if Jobs' emails helped that young lady learn some much-needed life perspective but I'm afraid that she, and much of the media, has instead defined her as the victim.