A Personal Loss: Steve Jobs

Apple Oct 05, 2011 No Comments

Apple CEO Steve Jobs died today at age 56.  In many ways, it is the ultimate absurdity of modern American life that the passing of the head of the world’s largest corporation would be mourned by millions in the way that a friend would be.  Respect for a business icon is to be anticipated, but the sense of personal loss at the death of one seems almost inappropriate and dismissive of the true personal relationships we all have.  In the age of the internet and 15 minutes of pop culture fame, the lionization of celebrities and the personalization of them has reached unparalleled levels.  We feel as if we know people who we would otherwise never even have access to.  It seems all too predictable that the passing of the man who introduced the personal computer and set in motion the increasingly pervasive culture of connectivity would impact people, at least initially, in a similar manner to losing a real friend.

The fact that anyone who never met Jobs would feel this impact is a testament to the uniqueness of Jobs as an executive icon.  The man who co-founded Apple at age 21 was never cut from the same cloth as an oil executive from Exxon Mobile, the company Apple passed a few months ago to establish itself as the world’s most valuable company.  Though Steve eventually grew older than the company he kept in Cupertino, CA, he maintained a youthful presence that belied the fact that he had already fought one battle with cancer.  There’s no question that the personal charisma of Jobs contributed immensely to the public perception of him as a pied piper who could not only lead people into a new age but would be willing to explain why things were the way they are.  His role as not just the company’s top executive, but also its top spokesman endeared him to millions.

Beyond his presence and charisma, however, lies the true connection that Jobs made with the public.  That connection was built on Apple’s products, almost all of which were solely designed to serve users.  Apple’s focus on consumer products is unparalleled in the computer industry, but the importance of the products go beyond the scope of a singular industry.  Jobs helped define eras and revolutions that ended up meaning something to individuals.  Can you get more personal than the Apple II and the Macintosh, the leaders of the “personal computer” revolution?  It turns out that you can.  The iPod became a constant companion for millions over the last decade, a device that carried users’ intimate music libraries and playlists of the moment.  The first revolutionary handheld device from Apple was not only an electronic reflection of one’s taste, but a precursor to the most personal product that exists in consumer electronics today.

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 was more than just an entrance into the phone market.  While smartphones had existed before, the iPhone was a realization of the potential of a device that could not only keep you connected, but knew everything about you.  Every major smartphone today looks like an iPhone.  What is an iPhone to its owner?  It’s a phone and a media player, but it’s also a computer in your pocket.  It can connect you with people by voice or by text.  It’s built around your email, your calendar, your contacts and your photos.  It can take your pictures and your video and it allows you to share them with your friends on your chosen network.  It knows who you are and where you are.  It can access your money and it can answer almost any question instantly.  And more and more every day, it is with you at all times.

You can’t get more personal than that.  So while it may seem odd to mourn the death of an ex-CEO and founder of what is today a giant corporation, the usual rules don’t apply here.  Most of us never knew Steve Jobs and can’t fully appreciate the life of this great, but flawed, individual.  Nevertheless, his vision and drive led directly to the products we live with and the connected world that we take for granted.  Combine that with a public persona that was as engaging as any we’ve ever seen and the loss of Steve Jobs hangs heavy on many of us.  Odd as it may seem, for millions who never knew Steve Jobs, this is a personal loss.

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