I asked this question at the time. David Masciotra pens a perfect essay expounding upon the question and identifies what its says of modern American culture and values. He writes of Shuttlesworth’s death:
On the day of his death, however, and the weeks following it, American culture collectively mourned and praised the CEO of Apple Incorporated without taking a pause, the measure of single breath, to nationally celebrate one of its champions for justice, community, and freedom.
In the outpouring of tearful tributes to Jobs, countless people crowned him with the rare title of “hero.” Millions of average citizens updated their Facebook statuses with lamentations over losing their “hero.” General Electric Chief Executive, Jeff Immelt, presumptuously called Jobs a “hero to everyone in his generation.” Newspapers, from the Baltimore Sun to the New Jersey Star Ledger and the Washington Post ran articles either labeling Jobs a hero or analyzing the millions who believed him to be such. The Ron Paul presidential campaign blog led with the headline, “Steve Jobs: American Hero,” and Time magazine is reportedly favoring Jobs as their 2011 Man of the Year.
He finds his answer in the failure of modern American culture and values:
There is also the newly popular idea that the inventions of Jobs have led to the organization of mass movements committed to improving the conditions of suffering people around the world. Shuttlesworth never had an I-Phone and he managed to get a lot done in his commitment to the same project. Communicative technology may accelerate and assist organization, but an honest observer can no more credit Jobs with creating movements than he could blame Jobs if people ever use an I-Pad to do evil.
The antiquated, outdated, pre-information age idea of heroism, which turns on sacrifice for a public interest and greater good, is too other-oriented for the new standards set by customized consumer capitalism. The life of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth had nothing to do with the self. Shuttlesworth did not live his life for himself, and although his heroism enhanced the quality of life for millions of people and improved the futures of many communities, when one reflects on his work, one is not likely to think of one’s self. One is not likely to think of the pleasure gained by the work of Shuttlesworth, but rather will consider the battles won, losses endured, and triumphs gained for a better world of love, respect, and moral growth.
As a Mac loyalist (I own three of them along with two iPods), I can say Steve Jobs definitely made my life better. But Fred Shuttlesworth made my life possible. Without him you probably wouldn’t be reading this piece because I would not have grown up in the Southern neighborhood that I did and therefore would not have had the educational opportunities I had or the job opportunities I’ve enjoyed. Shuttlesworth not only changed my life, he changed our world. Without his efforts, there would likely be virtually no black corporate executives, federal elected officials, not to mention a certain black American president. The list of the doors he opened is a column in itself.