Steve Jobs, A Year Later

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One year later we can’t forget him. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He made computers and phones and MP3 players. He wasn’t a political figure, a missionary, a healer. He was a guy who knew how to put software into hardware and make the whole as desirable to many as air.

The stories of great men are often intertwined. The great clockmakers of the 1700s all lived together and worked together on the same block, their shops open on the Place Dauphine, a triangular park at the prow of the Île de la Cité. The geniuses of Bletchley Park came together to crack the codes that won the war. The Beats roared through the country looking for love, booze, and enlightenment. Their fates, the fates of Breguet, Turing, Kerouac, Ginsberg, depended on their networks the way a spider depends on her web.

Jobs was the same. He grew up in a time that was best for what he did. He was born and came of age in an era that led him to see the promise in a bag of microprocessors and cold silicon, but wasn’t born so late as to misunderstand the change that swept through America in the 1960s and left its waterline high on the entrenched establishment. He grew up near Woz, near H-P, near the Homebrew Computer Club, near the cauldron of education, commerce, and risk that, in turn, grew up to become Silicon Valley.

When does that spark of connection happen? When does it blaze up into genius and go out again. Ignoramus et ignorabimus – We do not know, we cannot know. But it blazed around Steve Jobs and it gave us an era of magical machines, devices that – love them or hate them – define how we interact with the ephemeral.

Jobs was not alone in his quest but he was central in our minds as the avatar of that era, the embodiment of computing’s future. His company may slip and may falter, but the lessons he taught his confidantes – and us – echo even today. He left the world changed, just as all great men do. He left the world with a network of like-minded souls to carry on his mission, be they in Cupertino or Kolkata.

There’s something in us that loves the myth of the lone genius. Jobs wasn’t alone, but he is the one that we point to and say “That’s him, that’s the one, that’s the man who gave us this.” He didn’t, but it is good and right today to say he did. He gave us much of what connects us and helps us meet each other and helps us build ties that bind.

And I like to think that somewhere there’s a girl growing up in a place that will make her genius shine. I’m hoping she has good teachers and friends and that their parents are OK with her going her own way. I’m hoping that she meets a team of rivals who compel her to exceed all expectations. I’m hoping that there’s a little bit of Newton inside her, of Curie, of Turing, Woolf, of Kerouac. And I’m hoping that wherever she is, we meet her soon, because we miss the last man who taught us what it meant to be great and we need someone to stand in his place.

[CC Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com]