Thursday, October 06, 2011

R.I.P. Steve Jobs - The End of an Era

I know everyone is probably writing about the death of Steve Jobs, and I didn't expect to be one of them. I have never been an Apple or Macintosh person, and have resisted the siren call of the iPhone. When my wireless carrier, Verizon, finally got the iPhone after its exclusive run with AT&T ended, I deliberately chose the Droid instead. I didn't want to be part of what I felt was kind of a cult.

When my husband and I decided to buy a personal computer back in 1989, we did consider the Mac and weighed our choice between that and a PC. We chose the PC (an IBM clone of some sort), mainly because of the large price differential, and we never looked back. Since neither of us were involved in graphics or design, we never reconsidered our original choice and stuck with the PC forever after.

So I was surprised at how affected I was by hearing of the death of Steve Jobs. It's not that it was a shock; the man had had pancreatic cancer and had miraculously survived since 2004. But his recent health problems and his decision to step down from running the company he originally founded made it obvious that things were not going well for him, healthwise. Nevertheless I didn't expect to see the headline on the New York Times page last night on my computer saying that he was dead at 56. 56. Two years younger than I am now; and yet look at what he had accomplished.

Listening to the radio today, I heard so many tributes to Jobs and what his vision had meant for the world, it made me realize how much of what we take for granted was inspired by Steve Jobs and his innovation and imagination. Sure, we use a Dell PC, but the Windows operating system that runs it was copied from the Mac, with its desktop and folders and other innovations that the old IBM PCs never had. Yes, I have a Droid, but the sleek design and touch screen and other features were all pioneered by the iPhone.

Alec Baldwin, in a tweet this morning, compared Jobs to Henry Ford, Carnegie and Edison. The comparison is apt; like these other visionaries, he thought of things that people wanted before they knew they wanted them, and then made them real.

Many people have been referring to Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford in 2005, so I had to find it and listen to it. It is definitely worth hearing, and if you haven't already watched it, here it is:

The most poignant part of the speech, to me, was his discussion at the end about death. He had already faced the possibility of death the year before, when he was first diagnosed with cancer, and had at that time apparently been cured. But the reference to death he talked about was something he had read when he was young that affected him deeply:

"When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

I wish I'd heard those words about 35 years ago when I was graduating. I might have lived my life with a bit more purpose than I have so far. It's certainly something to keep in mind for the rest of whatever time I have left.

Steve Jobs changed the world through the elegant, fluid, usable technology that he envisioned and brought to life. People can change the world in different ways. While Bill Gates has left his company and is now working to save lives in Africa, Jobs basically died "in the saddle," so to speak, continuing to do the work he loved. While he didn't necessarily put his efforts toward saving lives, the technology he invented acts as the conduit for others' efforts to help people or change the world. No doubt many of the young people who led uprisings in Egypt and other parts of the world during the "Arab Spring" communicated and organized their uprisings using Steve Jobs' inventions.

Every day we live, whether we are using an Apple product or one of its imitators, we are benefiting from what Steve Jobs accomplished. I don't know whether his type of vision will be seen again in our lifetimes.