Imagine you'd had a close encounter with cancer a few years back. You turn up to work with a bit of a cold, and your boss gives you a worried look. "Is the cancer back?" Er, no. I've got a bit of a cold.
You go for a coffee. "Oh god, is the cancer back?" asks the bloke from sales. No, you say. I've got a cold.
Back at your desk, somebody accidentally CCs you on an email. It turns out that everybody in the company has become a doctor, they've all diagnosed you with cancer, and they've emailed your family to break the news.
Is that acceptable? If six months later your cancer did come back, would that make what they did acceptable? Of course not. But that's exactly what elements of the press pack and blogging crowd have been doing to Steve Jobs since June.
They'll tell you that Jobs' health is in the public interest - but there's a big difference between what's in the public interest and what the public is interested in. The endless speculation over the last six months falls firmly into the second camp.
Justifying the coverage
There are three main justifications for the coverage. The first is that shareholders have a right to know. If Jobs has to relinquish his duties because of ill-health then yes, shareholders need to know that. If he doesn't have to do that, it's none of their business.
The second justification is that Jobs is a celebrity. We must have missed him inviting Hello! Magazine into his lovely home, appearing in reality TV programmes and letting the cameras film his surgery in 2004. Jobs is a celebrity because bloggers and reporters have made him one.
The third justification is that Apple concealed Jobs' surgery in 2004, and has been less than truthful this time round. Absolutely true, and there's no doubt that half-truths, off the record phone calls and exasperated, opaque emails have had the same effect as throwing raw meat into shark infested waters. But that still doesn't excuse the feeding frenzy.
Owning Apple stock or an iPod doesn't give us the right to invade Jobs' privacy any more than owning M&S pants means we're entitled to stalk M&S's employees. Steve Jobs doesn't have his finger on the nuclear button, he doesn't run the world, and his personal life is none of our business. He's a smart man with a good job in an interesting company, a man whose family don't need, let alone deserve, to see every newspaper, blog, TV station and forum poster second-guessing his doctors' diagnoses.
What happens when - and we sincerely hope it's when, rather than if - Jobs makes a full recovery? Will he have to upload his medical records every time he catches a cold, twists his ankle or looks a bit tired? Should we force him to do star-jumps and provide a urine sample every time a few shareholders feel nervous?
We know what's wrong with Steve. What the hell is wrong with everyone else?
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