17 Nov 2011

All posts from 17 Nov 2011

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What Steve, Bill and Jeff Mean to Me

Enough time has passed since the publication of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs that I think it’s safe to give away the last line of the book. Besides, Isaacson himself reveals it in his extensive 60 Minutes interview. (Here’s a tip to those who don’t have time to read the book: just watch the 60 Minutes profile; it remarkably captures the essence of Isaacson’s reporting.)

In the final passage, Jobs is reflecting on mortality and concedes that he’d like to believe in an afterlife.

“But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.” He fell silent for a very long time.

Then he paused again and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

Much can be observed about the late Steve Jobs from this statement: his obsession with simplicity as he oversaw the design of Apple’s remarkable devices, his lifelong connection to digital technology (from pioneering personal computing to creating a market for the “fourth screen” of tablet computing), and how he integrated his soul with the devices that he created. He wanted to make a “dent in the universe” and at least in our gadget-infused, content rich world, he did.

Jobs’ products made a huge dent in my world as a visual storyteller: when I acquired a Powerbook in 2003 with its integrated content creation tools (Final Cut Pro, DVD burning, soundtrack production) I suddenly believed that I could become a filmmaker. Perhaps, I had entered Steve Jobs’ so-called “reality distortion field,” because against all odds, his technology did transform my creativity into a viable content that made its way to the masses.

He’s said to be our generation’s rendition of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or even John Lennon — a “magician genius” who built our era’s “most creative company.” That reality distortion field allowed him to will a world that he wanted to see, into existence. But as the narrative arc of this biography reveals, that same sense of self-belief that brought Jobs his awe-inspiring success, may well have also contributed to his demise.

“Cancer does not work that way,” Isaacson writes. Jobs decided he didn’t want surgeons to cut him open. So with the hope that he could maintain the integrity of his body, he opted for dietary and homeopathic remedies which did nothing to stem the advance of his pancreatic cancer. “Had they operated nine months earlier, they might have caught it before it spread.”

So now that he’s gone, and I’ve finally finished the book, I’ve asked myself whether Jobs’ reality distortion field will endure. In other words, was he as “insanely great” as he wanted to be, and as many of us are proclaiming, even as we continue to grieve his demise, an irreplaceable genius? Or are we somewhat blinded by that distortion field, unable to see that giants as big as Jobs, still walk the earth?

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What Steve, Bill and Jeff Mean to Me