Monday October 10, 2011
When the announcement hit the headlines several weeks ago, that Steve Jobs could no longer carry the load as CEO of Apple, I remember the sadness. I also recall thinking that I would write about him. Even then, people in the tech business were on the search for words big enough to capture something of the legacy of the man who got a cancer that not even the best of the best, not even unlimited funds could cure. I thought about it, too, because Steve Jobs’ legacy touched me, as well.
Hoopla around Apple product announcements is what we expect anymore. Most recently, my anticipation revved up more over IOS 5 than a new “iPhone 5″. The new operating system, and the promise of iCloud had me waiting with that old Mac eagerness that I share with millions. A new iPhone can wait, I thought, but that new operating system. Wow. So when the new CEO (Tim Cook, Jobs’ handpicked successor) took to the stage somehow to fill the Jobian blue jeans, black turtle neck and shoes, the world was watching. Within minutes, we all took note of the subdued presentation and muted applause. For the most part, the whole ninety minutes, while packed with whiz-bang enhancements and new capabilities and processing speed felt off the mark. The whole thing was typified by the near groan you could hear around the world when Cook introduced the iPhone 4S? (Not the 5.) You could a most hear the line from Princess Bride… Inconceivable!
For the next day or so, the question was asked, “What is UP with Apple?”. Are they losing their edge, already?
Then came the news alert, which arrived in my world just the President indicated. He commented that it was a remarkable tribute to a remarkable man that that news of his untimely death (age 56) came to most of us on a device he gave to us. For me, the iPhone. “Steve Jobs has died, according to a report from Apple, Inc.” was all the text message said. I felt the air go out of my lungs for a moment as I processed the thought. Too soon, came to mind. Too soon. Sadnesses rolled over me again.
Immediately, I realized why the product presentation came off as something less than spectacular. Certainly, the new CEO knew. Many of the insiders both in the audience and on stage knew, too. Steve Jobs was close. Very close. His demise, eminent. It would be only a matter of hours. It is a tribute to the secrecy Jobs insisted on throughout his career that kept any of the rest of us from knowing how very serious his condition had become. As much as I thought I knew about the man, I was unaware that he was married; much less about the four children, all of whom stood around the bed as the man who would be soon compared to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison and Henry Ford breathed his last. He would leave behind the most valuable company in the world, with more cash in the bank than the Federal government. But the children and the extended family and his wife of nineteen years, Lauren, mother to three of his children, would grieve the untimely loss of a husband and a father too soon, just as the rest of us would. Money, power, influence, fame – all secondary.
While I never met the man, his work did impact my life. Significantly. Substantially. And will continue to do so. Not just because four years ago I gave away my last PC and traded windows machines in for Macs and iPhones and iPods and now an iPad (I’m writing this on the iPad at somewhere around thirty five thousand feet somewhere above Arizona), but because these tools happily occupy a good portion of my day, every day. My PC friends will be quick to remind me that Jobs didn’t really INVENT any of that stuff (you’ll hear the disgust in their voice, annoyed by the hyperbole and overuse of the word “icon”). While they have a point, the devices and integration and innovation and accessibility that is now a regular part of my day came from the company that Steve built. No, Jobs did not invent the Internet, but the World Wide Web was built on one of Jobs’ most outrageously powerful machines, the NeXT. He didn’t invent MP3s either. Or GPS. Or the digital camera. Or flash memory. Or eBooks.
But he put them all in my pocket.
As I have reflected on how my life has changed in the last few years, I realize how much control I have over the content I digest. I am way less dependent on the public airwaves, where I was once stuck with network drivel and endless advertising. I choose my podcast. My music. I’ve read way more books an ever. I’ve written a couple of books of my own on machines made by Steve, and I have instant access to research and fact checking and dictionary and encyclopedias at my fingertips. I can access my documents, keep connected to my family and friends, edit my photos and videos, speak to and see my grandkids who are thousands of miles away. I record my thoughts while barreling down the freeway and then send the recording to myself via email. I send Carolyn a text, she taps the screen and sees my location on a map, including my speed and my estimated time of arrival home. She can even see the traffic conditions. I text her again from the tarmac and tell her I love her. And I’m only getting started. It’s all in my pocket.
Oh yes. That iPhone 4S. It’s “for Steve.”
If Steven Jobs had lived his three score and ten and then some, we may not be reflecting as we are today over the contribution he has made to so many. When he recruited John Scully, the CEO of Pepsi, to come and run Apple way back in 1983, he asked, “What would you rather do? Sell sugared water or come with me and change the world?”
That got him. It got me, too.
I’d rather change the world.
copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011