On Steve Jobs’ passing

Yesterday when I saw the news item that Steve Jobs had died, tears actually welled up in my eyes.

Why? I knew little about this man.  I’m not an Apple person, and am very good at resisting any and all efforts to make me buy something that somebody else thinks I need.  I’m also not a celebrity hound, so I don’t pay a lot of attention to what happens to rich people, except when an exceptional individual gives a lot of money for a good cause, or actually does something that is worthwhile for humanity.   It’s only a few minutes before writing this post that I finally watched that YouTube video of his commencement address at Stanford University, and which has been circulating for a long time.   I was surprised to learn of his family background, his working-class roots and his experience at Reed College.  All that makes me admire him a lot more.

What I did know of his personal life was that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; I remember feeling really sad for him when I first heard.  In the prime of his life, he seemed that he was being asked to accomplish far more each day than most of us could, all because he didn’t have much time left.   Pancreatic cancer typically means a sure death; that he was able to live for this long was a gift that I’m sure he fully appreciated.

In truth, all I really cared to know of Steve Jobs was that, with every new invention, he was just brilliant – always being creative, showing how one can still imagine from the edges, and then figuring out how to project that fertile imagination with such panache and intensity onto the marketplace.  That work had made him into a cultural icon, and from the tidbits that came through FB, he also seemed like a decent enough person.

He also clearly loved and enjoyed what he did, and had some understanding of basic human needs for relationships, joy, experiences of beauty, ability to communicate easily and effectively.   The raw display of talent and creativity, of taking the mundane and turning it into an extraordinary experience.  The products made me, a non-techie with a purely utilitarian approach to gadgets, giggle.  I mean, I was always smiling when I think of or interact with Apple products. I suspect that’s how other people responded too.

Sure, he was a master at manipulating all of us, making us want things that we weren’t sure we knew what to do with, other than what the ads said we could.  But his products are also smart, and enhanced whatever intelligence the users already possessed, leaving a lot of room, in fact, opening doors for people to do whatever they wanted to.  They pushed the user to be more curious, more adventurous, more creative, to want to push the gadgets themselves to the next level, to even surpass whatever Steve Jobs might have envisioned.   I know that I have totally appreciated how his vision has transformed my experience and expectations of media, and in a good way, a richer and more empowering way.

All that is not the work of a computer person, that’s the work of an intellectual, a genius, someone who thinks and lives in an interdisciplinary way.

He understood that person + machine created something new and different in every encounter, and the sum of those encounters exceed the realm of what we could understand.  And that was ok. One doesn’t need to predict the future. Instead, one needs to live fully in the present and create as many futures and possibilities as possible.  You can greet, accept, reject, or transform them when you get there.   That is the kind of person that we need a whole lot more of in this world.

So, to say that this single man has completely changed how *everyone* lives, even if one doesn’t personally own or buy a single thing that his company sells is an understatement.

I think that if you’re going to do something big, then it ought to be good for and accessible to everybody. And he did it. To me, that’s time well spent.

So long, Steve.  May we continue in that fabulous legacy you have left, and do a lot of good with it.

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