There has been a lot of chatter this week about the health of Steve Jobs. On one level, it's a perfectly understandable discussion. Jobs is a public figure and as such what happens to him--good or bad--interests us.
But a friend of mine suggested that any discussion of Jobs' health was crossing the line into gossip. He was not alone as comments in the many blog posts in the aftermath of this week's announcement attest. I maintain that there is room for serious and meaningful discussion about this, and that because Jobs is who he is, we should be talking about this and asking tough questions.
Public or Private
The fact is that Jobs is the very public face of a publicly traded company. His health matters more than on a People Magazine sort of level. It matters because many people believe he is the driving force behind all of Apple's greatest ideas. As such, what happens to him affects stock prices in a very real way and each bit of news whether it's a letter or a rumor can have a profound impact on investors who have put up real money.
Drawing a line
As I discussed in Steve Jobs Lives, Story at 11, which I wrote after the Macworld letter came out, there is legitimate debate regarding how much of any person's health is the business of anyone but that person, his family and his doctor, but in reality we know that certain public figures live by a different standard. We expect, for instance to see the medical records of people running for president. There is no law I'm aware of compelling candidates to share this information, but most do because the long-term health of a potential president matters to us. It's not because we want to gossip about the candidate's cholesterol level, it's because we have a legitimate concern about the candidate's health.
To some extent, the same is true for a public figure like Jobs. We don't necessarily have a right to the information, any more than we do with the presidential candidate, but because Apple is a publicly traded company, stock holders have a stake in this information, as does anyone considering buying the company stock.
I get that there is a line here and I'm hoping I haven't crossed it, but ultimately there is a difference between gossip for gossip's sake and very real discussion on the impact of Jobs health on Apple as a company. I'm not so cold as to forget that Jobs is a real man with a family and a right to his own life, but neither should he (nor anyone) forget that when Jobs coughs, the stock price fluctuates and that is open territory as far as I'm concerned. As a publicly traded company, it's important to remember, that information of this sort really is fair game so long as we remember there are some limits.