I don’t generally care much at all about the deaths of famous people, but I feel profound sadness at the passing of Steve Jobs. As I type this on my Macbook Air and my iPhone buzzes next to me with texts and calls and GroupMe messages, I find myself thinking back to playing Zork on my first computer, an Apple II.
That was my first experience with a personal computer and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was already hooked and destined to spend a large portion of my life in front of, tinkering with, and writing software for, computers. While a game was my first experience, it wasn’t long after that I was fiddling with Basic and Logo and logging into BBSes and manually upgrading an Apple IIgs to 768kb of ram (you had to insert the chips -no simms or dimms – yourself back in those days, kids).
I disagreed with a tremendous amount of Jobs’ philosophies and decisions (most recently with a lot of how iCloud works), but in many ways, that’s great: the things I thought he was wrong about helped as much in forming my own opinions and mental constructs for the “new,” as the things I thought he was right about. And those stances showed me the value of sticking your neck out and being passionate, even when sometimes it might be unpopular or even wrong.
People throw the word “visionary” around an awful lot with Steve Jobs and I feel like only some of them have really absorbed what that means. It’s much more about imagination than it is about technology. It’s incredibly difficult to envision something new in your mind’s eye and then communicate that to others and get everyone on the same page to go out and actually make that idea into a reality. He did that. It’s hard to think of many people who have had as profound an effect on human civilization in the last 30 years (yes, I just said that). Certainly not many (any?) politicians, even though in theory that’s kind of their job.
I am unaware of Jobs ever saying anything to this effect, but one of the things I learned from watching Apple over the years is that it’s incredibly important to try and make the complex into the simple. Or the easy. And doing that is way harder than it sounds. When our tools are simpler and easier to use it frees us up to not have to think about using them or how they work. 20 years ago we had to memorize phone numbers. Now we tap on someone’s photo to call them. Think about that. That’s completely fucking incredible. But we actually have to take a step back to appreciate it because it’s so simple that we’ve stopped having to think about it. We’ve been freed up to focus on the next thing. We’ve been moved forward.
It’s hard right now not to think about this quote that Jobs made at the 2005 Stanford commencement:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Steve Jobs died way too young and a colossus has been stolen from us, leaving a hole in the worlds of technology, software, communications and innovation. When the mourning has passed, the best thing the rest of us can all do to try and honor what Jobs accomplished is to try to be that New: Go out and try to make great things that change the world and make it a better place.