Steve Jobs was not a run-of-the-mill CEO. He was not the usual technology wiz. He was not lost in the abstract. He was not working for gain alone. Steve Jobs earned immense wealth and achieved some of the most pervasive influence over human events in recent decades, through the strength and passion of his mind. He was a bold visionary who imagined what had not been possible before, and laboring against the seeming constraints of the material universe, made beauty where there had been none before.
To say Steve Jobs contributed mightily to the development of information technology would be a gross understatement, almost an irrelevance. His vision and his efforts, along with the company he founded, had a clear, persistent and verifiable, direct impact on the evolution of the technological paradigm in which we all now live. He not only saw, when many could not, that IT was for everyone; he saw that it was in serving everyone that IT could actually have real power.
He demanded design that worked for people, worked with people, made the physical interaction with information intuitive, unobtrusive, second-nature, intelligent. His work foreshadowed what we now call smart phones, because he always seemed to be focused on how smart design would allow people to be smarter, to know more, to work, invent, achieve, and communicate, more rapidly and more persistently.
That commitment to design in service of human aspirations, whether grandiose or trivial, whether global or hyper-local, brought people together. Families separated by thousands of miles found themselves brought closer together by tools enabling them to see each other, to follow stories, to build a reservoir of human content, to live entangled in one another’s lives, even when separated.
People looking to spontaneously collaborate with strangers found that Apple was building devices and software laced with the intuitive genius, the knowledge of human psychology, the democratizing vision, necessary to make such collaborations not only viable, but vibrant and amazing.
It became a hallmark of Apple devices that they not only fit their purpose, and reduced the time it takes to achieve a task by way of technology, but that they were also beautiful and enjoyable. Jobs never allowed Apple to stand on one or the other alone, and never to fail to be useful and trustworthy. He demanded that his team produce cutting-edge devices that were applicable, reliable, beautiful and fun to use.
The result was an embrace of complexity that recognized not only the possibility of, but the need for grace under pressure. It was always a sign of respect for the people who would purchase what Jobs and Apple produced that he demanded such quality on all of these fronts, and quality that managed complexity not only ably, but intuitively and as if complexity were in fact simplicity, only richer.
Engineers, designers, inventors, visionaries on scales large and small, writers, architects, composers, have all learned from this astounding and prolonged performance of conductive imagination: Jobs thought about how to tackle the problems that face people as they manage information, communication, time and necessity, and he built ways for them to do all of this swiftly, gracefully and enjoyably. He freed people from what intimidates them about complexity—its ability to rob us of time.
Ultimately, with Steve Jobs as with so many other creative geniuses who have offered us visions of a different future, we must ask ourselves if we had enough time with him to learn as much as we could. Part of his legacy, though, must be that we believe in our own ability to imagine, to do and to achieve, and that we demand that we do so at the highest level possible.
What we have lost with the passing of Steve Jobs is much more than the man who gave us the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad—each of them revolutionary devices that altered many things about how people interact with information, how they communicate, and even how they transport themselves and their experiences around the globe. What we have lost with the passing of Steve Jobs is a light in the darkness, a vehement optimist of the truest kind, who understood implicitly—and demanded action from that understanding—that the optimal is always possible and that aspiring to anything else is irrational and counterproductive.
Many other people will tell his story. Maybe the people who knew him personally should do that. For us, here, it is best to describe his work for its contribution, and his spirit as the motivational energy behind that work:
In so many ways, Jobs exemplified that simple, yet elegant advice that we should all dare to Think Different, that we should build the best vision of what can be, directly from our imagination, in touch with the limits of the physical world, but unconstrained by the dominating conventions that would undermine the reach of human potential. Steve Jobs’ work has made the sphere of human interaction more diverse, more agile, and more humane. Those of us who benefit from his commitment and genius every day must seek to use his creations, his vision and his legacy to imagine, and to build, a better world.