Steve Jobs was, by all accounts, an asshole. He was an ego maniacal, contemptuous, perfectionist who screamed at and even humiliated his employees when things weren’t to his liking. He was petty, held grudges, and went out of his way to harm those who made his shit list.
And yet, within hours of his death, he was nearly sanctified. The internet exploded with everyone from Bill Gates to Barack Obama lauding his accomplishments. Even Lady Di’s untimely death didn’t get the same sort of response. It was almost bizarre.
Yes, he did some amazing things. He made computers accessible to “everyone else”. He helped change the way movies were made. He gave us a better way to take our music with us, then our computers, then our phones.
But really, the lion’s share of what he did was make existing products better through great design. He sold some of the first personal computers and championed the modern user interface. But, Xerox invented that technology, and someone else certainly would have put those pieces together if he hadn’t. He hired the right people and provided the funding to make Pixar take off. But certainly, computer animated movies would have come around with or without Steve Jobs. He hired the right people and had the vision for the last 15 years of Apple products. But mp3 players existed before the iPod. Laptops existed before the PowerBook. Smartphones existed before the iPhone. Even tablets existed before the iPad. Yes, he made them all far better. But he wasn’t an Edison. He was more like the Sam Farber of consumer electronics.
But still, the outpouring of emotion and thanks was tremendous. Why? Why did I feel really, really sad when I heard the news (ironically while Billy Joel’s Only The Good Die Young was playing in the background…no shit)?
I think we loved Steve Jobs because he loved what he did. His passion in everything he did was obvious. He poured his life into making the best products he could, even when he was staring into death’s maw. He had this all consuming purpose. He once told Stephen Wolfram that NeXT, his computer company in between stints at Apple, was what he “wanted to do with his thirties.” He didn’t think of time as the period before his shift ended, or in terms of days until the weekend, or in terms of weeks until his next vacation, or even in terms of year long projects. He thought in terms of decades. He wanted to make something so good that it would take nearly 20% of his life to do it.
I think we loved Steve Jobs because we all wish we had even a thimble full of that passion and dedication.
I think we loved Steve Jobs because we all wish we had that sense of purpose he appeared to have. That unwavering sense of knowing exactly where he was going and exactly what the fuck he was doing.
Ya, on the surface, he made shiny toys for rich people. But nobody’s that dedicated to making frivolities. He believed he was making tools that made life easier, that brought people together, that helped the handicapped live better lives. And he was.
I think we loved Steve Jobs because he showed us it was possible to start in your garage and actually leave a dent in the universe if you believed in your cause and dedicated yourself to it.