Standing back and getting out of the way and letting things take on a life of their own is not a variety of moral reflection, though it makes sense as a way to think about a wildly successful product. The total and exclusive focus on the tool at the expense of its ecosystem, the appeal to the zeitgeist that downplays the producer’s own role in shaping it (“whatever happens is … ”; “feeling the direction”), the invocation of the idea that technology is autonomous (“these things take on a life of their own”)—these are all elements of a worldview that Lewis Mumford, in criticizing the small-mindedness of those who were promoting car-only travel in the 1950s, dubbed “the bankruptcy of social imagination.”
Should we hold Ford Motors responsible for the totality of its impact on our lives, or just for the part that deals with liberation and autonomy? Perhaps it would set the bar too high to hold it accountable for pollution, congestion, and the disappearance of public space. But Apple’s brand, its lofty conception of itself, has been built on the idea that it is not a company like other companies. It was Apple that insisted that it wants to think different, and that it is not dominated by “suits” who care only about its quarterly earnings. So it is Apple who set this bar so high—and Apple that seems to have fallen short of it.