Monday, October 10, 2011

Thought Different


MG Siegler at TechCrunch posted a lovely piece on Steve Jobs today. I enjoyed what he wrote, but he missed the real story about the passing of Steve Jobs. I'm not surprised by this: nearly all bloggers and commentators have missed the real reason why so many people from so many walks of life are so publicly mourning the loss of Steve Jobs.

I'll get to that in a moment, but first: here are the two sound reasons that Siegler did mention for the outpouring of reactions from the world:

Reason #1: People are mourning Jobs' death because of the emotional ties that they have to Apple products.

Absolutely true. People have incredibly powerful emotional connections to their iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs. And I'm not just saying that as a fanboy (although I certainly am one of those), but rather as someone whose observed that magic as it unfolds: small children going berserk over getting the chance to play with an iPad; seniors who use an iMac for the first time and Skype with children, grandkids, and relatives in different countries; college students and others who regularly show their iPhone photo collection to friends at parties, on the subway and more.

Reason #2: People are mourning Jobs' death because he died at such a young age, robbing us of another twenty years of his possible genius and innovations.

This is the selfish reason. We feel a loss for what might have been. Or, as The Onion website so eloquently put it: we just lost the last American who knew what the fuck he was doing. Our culture usually mourns when someone dies before their prime, but especially when someone radically exceptional and celebrated dies in their prime: James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Princess Diana, and now, Steve Jobs. Although we can certainly look forward to another five years worth of other devices and services that Steve and the top brass at Apple have been developing, how many other contraptions might the man have created? How many other technologies might he have disrupted and made better in incalculable ways? We'll never know.

But the third reason - the real reason - why people are so upset by Jobs' dying is far more simple, far more primal: the world just lost a great communicator and philosopher.

Steve Jobs was able to communicate complexities with a simplicity that all of us could understand. We desperately seek this from our elected officials, but we never expect it from the CEO of a corporation. And yet Steve Jobs wasn't really a CEO although that's the title he held. He wasn't really a titan of industry, although he wound up radically transforming more than a few major industries. The man was - most of all - a communicator who specialized in the philosophy of the human condition and the magic of his technology to help us to share that condition. His canvas was technology, but his message was living an inter-connected life with the things we cherish most: conversations, music, photos and videos.

In other words: memories & stories. Steve Jobs told stories.

One need not look any further than any of his keynotes for proof of this, but especially those keynotes when some new iteration of iLife was demonstrated. Do you really think its accidental that every sample video being edited in iMovie and all of the photo-streams being showcased in iPhoto tell a story? It isn't. Those keynotes featured products invented for the purpose of telling the story of a multi-racial, inter-connected life of joy and adventure.

Even more profound is this: Jobs unleashed us to become story-tellers ourselves, using his software and hardware. More than anyone else, even more than Facebook: Steve Jobs made it possible through the technology he and Apple created to share our lives with one another in more gorgeous ways, in more simple ways and in more fun ways. The master story-teller became the teacher, showing us how we could each share our unique story with one another...using his tools and making Apple one of the most wealthy corporations on the planet.

Simply brilliant.

The loss of this teacher is painful. But, in the end, just as he imbued his DNA into Apple so that his vision would continue on after he left, so too did we receive a similar gift from Steve: we got the reminder that each of our lives, fleeting as they are, represent an ever-unfolding story that can be told in myriad ways.

We lost the teacher, but not the story. And, for that, I am especially grateful today.