Steve Jobs died today. The obituaries (carefully written years ago and periodically updated), old features, and unflinching profiles have been circulating around the Internet. There's no denying that Jobs was a controversial figure, but he was also one of the most influential people of my generation, of my own life. This may be incorrect, but I think my generation has been the first to grow up and be educated in the Digital Revolution. We had personal computers in our homes, something that was almost inconceivable in previous decades. I learned to use computers on what must have been a Mac II, which looked like something out of Star Wars--boxy, futuristic in a dated way, sort of beige-ish. I'm writing this now on my 2004 PowerBook 15-inch, which has survived two separate water spilling incidents, several cross-country and trans-Atlantic moves, and a strange and unfortunate infestation by tiny ants in Sierra Leone. The iPod Classic freed me from my cumbersome CD collections. The iPhone has kept me from getting lost over the past three months or so and has allowed me to explore San Francisco in ways I never thought possible. And so on. Without Macintosh, I don't know what my life would be like. That sounds a bit dramatic, but it's true.
I've come across four interesting articles on Steve Jobs today that offer different perspectives on the man. His 1985 interview in Playboy (don't worry, it's safe for work) studies the young entrepreneur and explores his views on excellence, design, and innovation. One great moment details his time at a birthday party for a nine-year-old. He gave the boy a Mac for his birthday and spent the evening teaching him to use it, unfazed by the presence of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. When asked why he seemed more at ease with a kid (side note: I wish that were MY ninth birthday party!), he responded: "Older people sit down and ask, 'What is it?' but the boy asks 'What can I do with it?'" In a 2008 profile in Esquire, Tom Junod looks at Jobs' control-freak nature and the pall of mortality that tinged Apple in the wake of his cancer diagnosis in 2004. Delving more into the inner, perhaps subconscious, motivations of the adopted Jobs, Junod does not flinch away from showing the ugly sides and the contradictions of Jobs' persona. In The New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin talks about Jobs' lack of (public) philanthropy--I can only hope that he left a sizeable amount of his $8.3 billion to a good cause or causes, or that his family starts a foundation. Finally, a short piece from Ken Auletta in The New Yorker today discusses his legacy. The article mentions his commencement speech at Stanford, which I have embedded below.
Mr. Jobs, you were not an easy man, and you did not choose an easy path. You lived a contradictory existence--you could mention traveling through India, Bob Dylan, and the Whole Earth Catalog and at the same time be the man who could call some of his own employees "fucking losers" and had little interest in giving back. Your vision was extraordinary. Your humanity was flawed. Thank you for all that you've done.