A few days ago the Apple blogs to which I go were abuzz about the fact that Time magazine chose Steve Jobs as one of the 20 most influential Americans of all time. Apparently, the criteria excluded those whose influence was evil (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, who would otherwise be right up there).
Of course, this sort of list is always highly subjective. My first reaction when I scanned it was amazement at the fact that Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark all made the list (separately, not as a group). The definition of influence must be rather strained, as, if memory serves, the broader public never heard of Sacagawea until years after the expedition, when the Journals were finally published. I'm not picking on her necessarily, though the choice is almost glaringly PC, because it's also really hard to make the argument that either Lewis or Clark deserve to be on the list.
The list says more about its compilers than it does about who was or wasn't truly influential. What I found interesting was the fact that there was not a single literary figure among the 20. Neither Thoreau (who influenced both Ghandi and Martin Luther King, the latter of whom justifiably made the top 20), Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Poe, Dickinson, Stowe (the “little lady who started [that] big war”) nor any other writer made the list, so we are to believe, I must assume, that none of those worthies was as influential as Louis Armstrong, who I admit, played a mean trumpet, but…well, but ..top 20? Really?
Nor, for that matter, did any other artist make the list, other than the aforementioned Armstrong. No painter, no dramatist, filmmaker, or, perhaps more justifiably, journalist. No one, except two scientists (who inhabited a different intellectual realm than the people to whom I refer), whose primary influence was in the world of ideas.
What are we to make of this? Has America really been so untouched by the ideas of its intellectuals and artists that not one has been more influential than a boxer? Is it really the case that their works have been so unimportant that not a one deserves placement on such a list? I think we can safely say that the answer is “no”, and that the self appointed list makers at Time just weren't up to the task.
Addendum: for the record, I'm a big Apple fan, but I don't think Jobs should be on the list either.