Steve Jobs for Fortune magazineImage by Charis Tsevis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It took me by surprise that I cried when Steve Jobs died. I was surprised to feel so moved by the loss of someone who was essentially a modern industrialist. But of course, his acumen as a businessman was not what I was mourning. Jobs’ work has moved us in ways that the work of his contemporary Bill Gates never has. Gates’s influence on our culture has been just as powerful, but has not touched as profoundly. Why?

The vast digital domain that we think of when we imagine information technology is essentially non-physical in nature. It is, by definition, incorporeal. But like all incorporeal things – our thoughts, our dreams, our faith, our souls – it relies on bodies for manifestation in the physical world. The digital needs the analog to express itself.

And this is what Steve Jobs did better than anyone else. He built beautiful bodies for our digital dreams. He understood before we did that we craved elegant containers for our disembodied hearts and minds. Every device he ever created, from the Apple 1 to the iPhone, was an expression of his deep, aesthetic commitment. And here he stood on the shoulder of giants, from Aristotle and Aquinas up to modern information theorists who assert that the best code is the simplest and most beautiful. As Keats so famously wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Job’s aesthetic began with the analog form of the device and then, quite naturally, extended into the digital function — the UI or user interface. The icons. The navigation. The information architecture at heart of the Apple OS. Analog and digital, form and function, hand in hand. Jobs was not just constructing bodies; he was giving them very particular and beautiful expressive capacities that are connected to something radically new in human experience; they plug us into a shared digital landscape filled with us and everything we bring to it.

Technology is our connective tissue. It joins us, hearts and minds. Jobs enabled this connection in a new way. He did not create the content that fills the devices he designed. He left it up to us to write songs, create art, make movies, write blog posts and emails and essays, send tweets and texts and build websites.

Jobs was a perfect reflection of our times. He made stuff that is so attractive, so enchanting, that he created a vast global desire for his products. His medium was technology and the context was capitalism. He made a lot of money for himself and for many other people. But by all accounts, the money wasn’t the point. The money was simply a validation of the fact that his vision was spreading throughout the world. And that vision was that the digital and the analog could be a thing of beauty when married with skill and vision.

The danger in the global mourning of his gifts is that we become so enchanted with the devices that we get lost in the interface and forget that the real point is what lies on the other side of the threshold. The devices are doorways into a larger, enchanted world of our shared creativity. They are not ends, they are beginnings.


Jennifer CobbJennifer Cobb is a business consultant specializing in marketing and strategy for public and private sector organizations. She has a degree in ethics from Union Theological Seminary and is the author of Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. She lives in Berkeley, California and blogs regularly at The Spruce Blog.

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5Reflections

Reflections

I am sorry to say that until Dennis Ritchie died recently I failed to perceive the truth about Steve Jobs and how people think of him. Dennis Ritchie was the creator of C and a creator of Unix, among other things. He was a true technology innovator and much of what he created was shared with the world and used to develop other technology. Steve Jobs made heavy use of his work. Jobs is known not for technology he created but for technology he mass produced in third world sweat shops and sold. Xerox developed the Graphical User Interface and shared it with the world, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Those two tried to patent it to stop others from using it and fought court battles over it. This was and is the standard practice of Apple and Microsoft. Apple is currently using this strategy to maintain market share of tablets by using the courts to stop Samsung from selling their tablets under the pretense that Apple created touch screens and owns the idea. Apple products are built by workers in unsafe conditions that have harmed many workers. But Steve Jobs is revered because he manufactured and made available, for just the price of the device, a pretty product that allows fortunate people to feel more fortunate. This is not an indictment of any individual, but of our society.

"An indictment of our society"?  If one looks at history, this is merely a "necessary means" of most great innovators in the real world that is full of competitors.  Henry Ford was a tyrant to his employees and his vendors and subcontractors;  Edison was similar but not quite as bad.  Aside from the fairy tale stories about the "giants of industry", it takes aggressive, savvy people to succeed in this world . . . many try; but most fail.  Society just needs to set what are reasonable limits to business practices.  And with the sophisitication and compleixity of our modern world, (patent hoarding, etc., it is becoming increasingly diffiuclt for those like Gates or Jobs to succeed.  There are real wold realities for innovators of new products and industries. 

If life has a purpose it is "to reach out to the limits of our capacities, to others, to God". It happens to be the "ideal reaction to the void" which is what we discover when we ask "Why am I?" To reach out to the limits of our mental capacities requires knowledge.

When 'Eve' asked the question of meaning for the first time she made the "ideal reaction" optional by giving humanity two other ways of reacting to the void. One of these was trying to fill the void. For centuries our ancestors tried to fill the void with religious/philosophical answers and we still try this way. Today, though trying to fill the void with money and all the stuff it buys, our materialistic reaction to the void, dominates, there are six others. Among them is our factual reaction to the void with which we try to fill the void with facts and information.

I didn't cry when Steve Job died. I just wondered if those who did were moved to tears because they sensed the loss of someone who enabled us to acquire knowledge or who created paraphernalia that enabled us to 'mainline' information. http://www.thelastwhy.ca/poem/

Beautiful bodies for our digital dreams,hmm. I have a lime green imac that I will sell to the first person with $35. I think he was very good at branding and I think he realized that people would sacrifice performance for elegance. I appreciate the simplicity of his approach. His industrial design (lately) seemed to be stating that simplicity is important. Don't forget that Steve Jobs primary success was with the Mp3 technology. This is basically a toy. It can't be compared to success of Microsoft which gave the world an affordable business platform. Jobs (RIP) gave us fashion and a simple operating system that is very good for graphics, but Gates and Michael Dell made the quality of good and services around the world go up and the cost go down.

 

Another elegant eulogy 2 a rare human, who "mastered" the monkey mind-in part w/LSD.