Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steven P. Jobs 1955-2011

Humanity has lost a giant today. Many will mourn, and their reasons will be varied and perhaps unexpected.

I suspect that the full meaning of Steve Jobs' life won't be understood for many years. He was more than just a brilliant entrepreneur and cunning inventor; his genius extended beyond microchips and earnings statements. His life represented something deeper and farther-reaching: a vision for humanity. And, personally, he was a hero and luminary who I looked to for hope in my own future.

Our family's first personal computer was a Macintosh SE. It was 1987, and we lived on the bleeding edge of technology; it was the first Mac with an internal hard drive (32 MB!). All my computer-savvy friends at school had Commodore 64's and "IBM Compatibles". Debates often raged at the lunch table about which computer was best, but I vigorously defended our Mac even in the face of public ridicule. Without knowing or understanding it, I had joined a fraternity of consumers unlike any before or since.

It wasn't until several years later that I learned about the high priest of our cult. Steve Jobs, the nerd of all nerds, birthed a cultural force that lay dormant for decades in the hearts and minds of faithful Apple users. We happily clicked and fawned over our devices even as irrelevance seemed to settle finally upon us with the domination of Microsoft Windows and the ubiquity of the bland 'PC' moniker.

These days, the chic Apple logo is everywhere, and it's never been hipper to own one of the devices. How did this happen? And why? Is my iPod just that cool? Does the usefulness of my iPhone stagger me with awe? Nay! These things are just a conveyance for our imaginations and the medium through which Jobs' vision could be shared.

Steve Jobs was the last great Humanist, Apple's philosopher-king and America's quintessential tragic hero: bold, brave, flawed and able to overcome. The work he did and the products Apple has churned out year after year suggest a fascination with bringing humans closer together. He wanted people to be more closely knit and be able to communicate and work and understand each other with fewer barriers. This is a simple vision, perhaps, but it is remarkable in that it has been realized and appreciated by so many. President Obama probably put it best: "there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented."

It is an unexpected turn of events that Steve's death is on the same day as my arrival in California. This day was meant to be the start of a new journey and a new life. I have been inspired by Steve's example in the past - not as a future tech leader but as a man following a dream - but this tragedy is still more poignant than I would have expected. I have been greatly comforted, though, by his excellent commencement speech at Stanford in 2005:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
I am newly inspired by Steve Jobs' life and death. He said in the same speech that death is the "single best invention of clears out the old to make room for the new." While that is a macabre thought on this particular day, its truth is undeniable. What it means to me is that time is precious, and I don't intend to waste any more. I can best honor Steve's memory and life by following my "heart and intuition". And I think it's likely that his ability to stir the imaginations and actions of his fellow humans may even outlast iPods and iPhones.


  1. Well said.

    "just a conveyance for our imaginations and the medium through which Jobs' vision could be shared" This pretty much sums up what made his products and his company transcendent — and what few of his customers probably understand.

    It took a man like that to lead us to a world where technology could become more than a better tool for counting or drawing or writing. It took vision to see that technology is about bringing our dreams and thoughts out into the light.

  2. I wish to buy an iPhone in his honor. Perhaps someday we will get such a visionary in politics who will equally change the world.

  3. From Apple to Pixar to Apple, Job's once said, in so many words, that he wanted to help people find enchantment again. That vision, a moral and religious undertaking, is why he inspires me. And that vision, which he strived to live every day touches me deeply. Thanks for sharing M^3. (Oh, and it's a long story why my blogger id is "Gordon.")

  4. I appreciate the quick mention that he was flawed. I think that we need to take a closer look at that. While I greatly respect Mr. Jobs because he was a successful businessman that created dozens of excellent, revolutionary products, I suspect that his legacy is being white-washed. We as a culture tend to elevate that which is deemed cool by the masses and revile that which isn't; this is often true regardless of the circumstances of respectability. I doubt that a true philanthropist such as Bill Gates, upon his passing, will receive the tributes that Mr. Jobs is receiving. And I think we need to ask why that is.

  5. FK!

    Thanks for the post. If I may...I don't think it's too unusual for obituaries and very recent post-death commentary to be mostly positive. I'm not sure that counts as whitewashing..I think it's just being polite.

    Mr. Jobs' tyrannical management style has been well-documented over the years(have you seen "Pirates of Silicon Valley"?). I don't think people are forgetting that; I think they're just choosing to remember the many positive things he brought to this world.

    It's an interesting comparison with Bill Gates. You're right, I don't think he'll get weepy, melodramatic mourning at his passing. I think that's because he was a follower and an opportunist; he didn't *create* in the same sense as Steve Jobs. He was in the right place at the right time, and he built a near-monopolistic corporation that has blanketed the world of computing with its mediocre and lackluster software.

    Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was driven by a much deeper compulsion to change the world. Of course he was flawed. Geniuses always are; they usually have atrocious social skills, and they sacrifice relationships for their work on a regular basis.

    As far as Bill Gates' philanthropy...I'm not too impressed. Like Warren Buffet, Andrew Carnegie and others, they gave out of their outrageous excess while maintaining ostentatious lifestyles. There's certainly nothing wrong with spending the money one earns, but I wonder if the giving ends up being mostly a face-saving endeavor. After all, what would people say if they just hoarded it all?

    I realize as I type this that I'll more than likely come across as one of Steve's myriad acolytes rather than as one engaging in a debate. But at least you'll know that I have reasons for why Steve Jobs is worthy of, at the very least, some praise and admiration after finally losing a long battle with cancer whilst simultaneously changing the very nature of how humans use technology in their daily lives. :)


  6. JLN,

    I recognize that Steve's innovation was second to none, and that his is a story of triumph in business battle. I also recognize that people tend to focus more on the bright spots and contributions of the recently deceased.

    However, as I see the flowers and notes that are outside the apple store at Woodfield mall, I have to ask again... why is this person receiving a teary tribute and make-shift shrines across this nation? Is it any different than why Michael Jackson received the same treatment? I submit that it isn't. Steve Jobs was a brand unto himself, and that it was is being lauded. He was geek-chic and we loved him for it.

    As for the philanthropy of the rich... Of course they're giving out of their wealth. That's how it works. That being said, how much worse is it if someone has that wealth and DOESN'T give out of it?

    So, did Steve Jobs do great things? Yes. Was Steve Jobs a great man? I think not.