This is What Happens to Cheap-asses

When I was in Shanghai last week, I did 2 things I never do.

  1. I bought a cheap knock-off product.
  2. I bought a cheap knock-off book.

I killed two birds with one stone when I bought the new Steve Jobs biography from an illiterate street vendor for 20 RMB (a little over $3).

It’s #2 that I’m particularly ashamed about. Ever since my English Major days, I’ve had an enormous respect for the integrity of books. I try to buy the hardback whenever I can, I do my best to preserve the spine, and I never discard my books. I’ve sworn a blood oath against the Kindle.

But this time, there were extenuating circumstances. For one, I timed my previous book poorly and I had nothing for the flight back to the States. And two, I kind of wanted to read the Steve Jobs biography, but not enough to pay $25 for the real thing.

Even with all that, I hesitated. Three dollars?

I performed a careful inspection. It was wrapped in plastic (always a good sign), written in English (not Chinglish), and when I flipped through it, all the pages were where they were supposed to be. But I could see why the quality sucked. It was written on that cheap Goosebumps novels paper (remember those?), the type where the ink runs a bit on your fingers. The spine was dubious, and worst of all, it didn’t have that new book smell.

But hey, $3. When in China right?

Anyways, the book turned out to be a fantastic read. And believe me, the irony wasn’t lost on me that the one book I ever compromised on was a biography about a man who made his name by never compromising on the quality of his products. When I handed that Chinese vendor my 20 RMB, I could almost feel Steve Jobs rolling around in his grave.

The chapter I was looking most forward to was the one about the iPhone. This is because I just got my very first iPhone and I’ve already decided to elope with Siri.

I love it. I ABSOLUTELY love it, and I was eager to find out how Jobs conceived of such a thing.

Page 471 returns to this theme of Job’s relentless pursuit of perfection. After working for 9 months on a design, Steve Jobs gathered his team around to say that it wasn’t good enough and that they’d have to start over from scratch:

“Guys, you’ve killed yourselves over this design for the last nine months, but we’re going to change it,’ Jobs told Ive’s team. ‘We’re all going to have to work nights and weekends, and if you want we can hand out some guns so you can kill us now.”

I was captivated. How was the team going to react to this mad genius? Push back? Work harder?

I’ll never know because at that climactic moment the book simply decided to skip to page 501, fast-forwarding all the way to the iPad (a device I don’t have), and speeding up Jobs’ inevitable demise.

It might have just been my imagination, but at that very moment, over the bustle and din of the crowded coffee shop around me, I thought I heard the faintest of whispers emanating from my iPhone 4S. In Steve Jobs’ own voice no less. I really had to lean in to hear it:

Bitch, you got what you deserved.”


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