When I wrote my piece entitled “One More Thing…” in August following the news that Steve Jobs was formally stepping down as CEO of Apple, I knew that sooner or later there would have to be a follow up. Unfortunately, it ended up being sooner.
While the reaction following Jobs’ resignation was powerful, the reaction to his passing has been nothing short of amazing. Former employees, colleagues, celebrities, adversaries — even the President of the United States paid tribute. But once again, the most fascinating group of people showing their support are the ones who did not know Steve Jobs. It’s the everyday people that simply used and loved his products.
The Tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, etc, flowing in from all over the world have been a unifying force. I happen to be in London right now, and in one Tube ride the day after he passed, I overheard several emotional conversations about Jobs. I also met a complete stranger yesterday and when I told him I was American, it was the first thing he brought up. Even my mother messaged me about it.
This type of global unity tends to happen when a major celebrity passes away — think: Michael Jackson — because nearly everyone on the planet knows who they are. People always look for common bonds, and those are easy ones to establish. That’s because pop culture shoves them in our faces for years if not decades. And the type of fame they achieve goes hand-in-hand with celebrity.
But Steve Jobs was not a celebrity — at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, he was famous, but he did not seek fame. Nor did he need it. The main goal of his career was not to sell his image. He was the head of a company.
When you think about it that way, I think the reaction we’re seeing to his passing points to something different. One element, as I wrote about following his resignation, is the emotional tie that people have to Apple products. Because so much thought and care is put into them, those who purchase and use them tend to cherish them. And as iPods, iPhones, and iPads have come around, the Apple user base has grown exponentially. Steve Jobs was the personification of Apple’s products — hence, a strong connection.
But it goes even deeper.
People have been writing about their profound sadness over the loss even though they’ve never met Jobs. And many of them have noted that they didn’t expect to feel this way. Thinking about it, I believe this is related to two things.
First, Jobs died young. Even though his illness ravaged his body and made him appear far older than he actually was, Jobs was only 56 years old at the time of his passing. The average male life expectancy in the U.S. is just about 76. For the world overall, it’s 67. To be fair, those ages are calculated at birth, but Jobs was also a billionaire with access to any doctor in the world that he could have wanted. He was simply dealt a bad hand with cancer. And it robbed him of at least 20 years on this planet.
But it didn’t just rob Jobs. It robbed us too. That’s why people who haven’t met the man care so deeply. Not only is his early death a sad story, it takes away a man who will go down as one of the greatest innovators of not only our time, but of any time. And while you could certainly argue that someone like Michael Jackson contributed great art to the world — he did — he hadn’t done anything significant in nearly 20 years at the time of this death. Steve Jobs was in his prime when it came to his trade, when he passed away.
It’s both sad and frustrating to think about what we’re going to miss in terms of innovation over the next 20 years because Jobs won’t be here. Even if you aren’t a fan of Apple, you cannot argue that Jobs hasn’t transformed industries and made them significantly better. He was a true iconoclast.
And we’re now in an age where technology is becoming increasingly important to everyones’ lives on a daily basis. The fact that we have to push forward without the best mind in the field is quite frankly, a little frightening. Others will step up. But there will never be another Steve Jobs. The world aches knowing that.
Many artists and geniuses aren’t appreciated in their day. It’s only after they’ve died that their legend is established. But Jobs was appreciated and given proper respect well before his death. This also plays into the outpouring of emotion we’re seeing. Most people realize that the world has just lost a genius.
And now we have a plethora of tools to talk about it in real time when it happens. When Disney died, when Einstein died, people had to read about it in the paper the next day and then talk about it with maybe a dozen other people that they happened to run into in the subsequent days. It’s hard to establish broader global context that way.
Before that, it was hard to know the significance of a great person dying at all. Michelangelo was considered the greatest living artist of his time. But even if people in say, China, had learned of his death, would they have any idea who he was? Probably not.
I might argue that Jobs is the first truly transformative figure to die in an age of transformative technology. He’s someone who will be talked about a thousand years from now. And the fact that he was transformative in technology just compounds the reactions to his death right now.
In many ways, it’s perfect that the video below surfaced again just after Jobs’ passing. It’s the original Apple “Think Different” commercial. In it, images of transformative people throughout the 20th century are shown as a narrator toasts to them for changing the world. In the versions that aired on TV, the narrator is Richard Dreyfuss. But in the version below, the narrator is Steve Jobs.
The toast reads as follows:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Perhaps he didn’t know it in 1997 when he recorded this, but that is absolutely Steve Jobs describing himself. He was crazy enough to think he could change the world. And he did.
[image: Jonathan Mak]