This was originally posted on swombat.com on October 6th 2011.
I’m sure there’ll be thousands (probably tens of thousands) of blog posts, comments, and other forms of expression and eulogies about Steve Jobs. The man had that much influence over us. Maybe some, maybe all of them will repeat what I’m going to say here, but that’s not why I’m writing this. Fundamentally, it’s because I feel compelled. I can’t not write it.
I was sitting in a meeting about UK legislation throughout the morning, and found out, at the end, that Steve had died. Even though it was obvious that he was going to die sometime, it was still incredibly sudden and shocking. It’s amazing how personally and emotionally touched I feel by this.
First, it seems amazing, unbelievable, that Steve Jobs could be dead so suddenly. His death at a young, young 56 is a brutal reminder that death takes us all.
Even if you’re a multi-billionaire, someone who’s changed the world twice over, loved by many, influential beyond measure, leading one of the world’s most powerful human organisations, living what was presumably a model life from a health perspective, even if you’re someone who literally has all the world at his disposal, still the great scythe will sweep and it will not miss. Taxes may not be certain. Death is.
A second thought is of the empty “reserved” chair, visible in the front row at the Apple keynote just two days ago, was reserved for a man who was probably lying on his death bed at the time. The empty chair reminds us that Steve worked until the very end, resigning only when, presumably, his declining health made it impossible for him to work.
Like Freddy Mercury said (and did, working until June, dying in November): The Show Must Go On.
Steve died as the curtain fell. I’m not ashamed to say that it actually makes me cry a little, here in this coffee shop. Oh well, I’ve always been a sentimental.
A third thought is about what a tragic, personal loss this is to, well, everyone who loves technology. You may have loved Steve Jobs or hated him, but what you can’t deny is that he was a force for the progress of technology.
Steve Jobs revolutionised the world of consumer computing with the Mac. He upended the music industry (and a few others), transformed consumer electronics, forced the mobile phone industry to leap kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and finally pushed forward a device which will possibly represent the future of computing. The shape of things to come – cue Battlestar Galactica music in the background.
Seen from the perspective of where technology was a mere 10 years ago, the iPhone and iPad are, quite simply, science fiction. No matter your emotional stance on Steve Jobs, it is impossible to deny that, on a technological level, he made a big dent in the world.
What a tragic, personal loss this is to all who love technology, and even to those who don’t. Here was a truly exceptional man, who made the world better in the way he could, and he is no longer with us. We have lost him – all of us. We’ll have to make do without him.
A final thought occurs, a thought about life and death that I’ve been mulling over for some time.
I don’t have much experience of death, but here is my perspective. While we live, we influence the world around us, through our will (which led some philosophers to declare that will was the fundamental unit of reality). When we die, that will is extinguished.
How quickly it seems that the world erases all trace of most people. Some live on for some time, through great art or great acts, but eventually, it erases all, without fail, without exception. The broom follows the scythe and sweeps everything away. The well of the past is indeed bottomless and filled with the forgotten memories of those who came before us.
And so with Steve Jobs. One day he will be utterly forgotten, not even an atom of a memory will remain, even if humanity lives on. But for now, what Steve Jobs achieved in Apple, over a brief decade since he came back to it, was to create, in a medium other than art, an extension of himself. Apple is modelled after Steve’s vision, and it is fair to say that it is an extension of what he learned, through his life, and, more importantly, of what he willed. Apple is Steve’s will, externalised.
And Apple lives on. And Apple is, technically, immortal (as in, not subject to mortality – obviously it can go bankrupt). One day it will err and die, but its potential lifespan is considerable, given where it is now.
Certainly, Apple will change, but so would Steve, had he lived.
This is a poor form of immortality. As Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works, I want to achieve immortality through not dying”. But whereas art, to a large extent, is static, a company is an entity – legally and in reality – capable of making decisions, of changing the world, capable, in short, of will.
It may not be a perfect proxy for Steve’s will, but it’s what we have left after this great man has passed away. That, and the science fiction he made real for us.
Thoughts from 2017
Most of the thoughts in this article still feel true, but as my articles about my ill-fated adventures with the new Macbook Pro have perhaps made clear, I suspect that the answer to the question of whether Steve Jobs’ will lives on in Apple is, sadly, no. But I might be wrong, who knows. Jobs made a few mistakes in his time too, though generally they didn’t lack vision. Time will tell.
Still, I wanted to preserve this article on danieltenner.com.