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 life...it 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.