The death of Steve Jobs hit me like a stack of lumber to the chest. I knew his health was poor, though naively believed that someone of his importance would receive extraordinary medical care that would cure him. He was just as human as the rest of us, despite his incredible mark he’s left on our lives.
For some background, I began my foray into Mac computers relatively late in life, when my sister got her G3 tower. I had regarded Apple as an interesting, quirky alternative to PCs until I saw this gorgeously designed machine, complete with a futuristic flat panel display (rare indeed in 1999). Soon thereafter, I was struck with the “Apple bug”, and began following the ins and outs of the company, and their charismatic CEO, Steve Jobs. Here was a man who valued quality and aesthetics, but in a deep-rooted, inherent way. He was the anti-CEO, someone more likely to bleed the company of money, making quality things rather than release shoddy merchandise. I even studied design in college in part to the inspiration Apple, and Steve Jobs gave me.
There have been countless memorials and articles in the last few days extolling Jobs as a true renaissance man, a genius, a visionary and a cultural leader. I won’t attempt to regurgitate all of that, but I did want to share my reflection on the passing of perhaps America’s greatest business leader.
Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs was able to command respect through his huge string of technological hits. In the iPod explosion of the 2000s, even the most ardent critics had to admit he and Apple had a knack for innovation. Bill Gates has never been very eloquent, and in the light of Windows’ many copycat flounders, he seemed to be personally ticked off and embarrassed that the born-again Apple that he saved from bankruptcy was now on a surge. The surge hasn’t slowed, and Apple this August briefly edged out Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world.
But company valuation and market share weren’t Steve Jobs’ obsessions. The company he founded was never purely about profit. It was about creating products that Steve himself would be proud to use. He recruited the best industrial designers in the business, and pushed them and pushed them until they sweat innovation out their pores. While competition used the rubric of technical specs, Jobs molded Apple into a company with few peers and no regard for conventional comparison. True, Apple isn’t always the fastest or first to implement a technology. But when at their best, Apple’s offerings are cut from a totally different cloth. Like building a phone out of aluminum and glass. Like building a computer without a fan to make it silent and calming. Like creating a giant glass cube in Manhattan that beckons visitors into its store.
To me, this type of innovation and conscious differentiation is what made Steve Jobs important. It elevates the whole world of technology into one of art and beauty.
In Jobs’ own words:
It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities.
In this way, his approach was one of societal inclusion in technology. His mission was to understand technology and have a vision for where and how it fit into human culture. It’s easy to be flippant and trivialize the “i” devices as just more stuff. And I do see the consumerism, here-today-gone-tomorrow aspect of it. And surely Jobs was guilty as anyone for giving us a sweet tooth for pretty shiny objects. But I see his role as fundamental in evolving the way we communicate, create, design and flourish. No doubt that the computer would have evolved without Steve Jobs. But I don’t want to picture what it would look like without him. He brought a beautifully humanistic and soulful influence that can’t be overstated. In my travels overseas, Apple products are the envy of everyone, and it made me proud to call Steve Jobs an American. He was the great innovator. A legend.
You were a huge inspiration to me, Steve. I am going to miss you a lot.