Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Steve Jobs changed the world

It was sadly ironic that I learned of the death of Steve Jobs on Wednesday night on my new iPhone 3GS.

I was at the University of Florida’s student union to see the movie “Super 8” and had just decided to check the news while listening to a podcast, and there it was at the top of MSNBC.com. Steve Jobs, dead at 56.

The cause appears to have been pancreatic cancer, and I suppose all we can do is look back at his battle to survive admire the hell out of a man whose years were spent doing things that have really changed the world.

We kid ourselves that we try to elect people to public office who we think are going to make our lives better. We can tell ourselves that electing President Barack Obama has changed things, or maybe Sen. John McCain would have changed things, and we seem to be looking for change in the Republican challengers now enduring the primary season, but let’s face it: you can vote for change all you want, and believe in a politician, but the people who have a real impact in this world are those who decide to change it.

Steve Jobs decided to change things. We see the results every day.

There’s a scene in the movie “Super 8” where a young person tells the local sheriff that he just got a Sony Walkman. Back in the late 1970s, when the film is set, that’s really hot stuff for young people. He says it’s a stereo you can carry with you. The sheriff is unimpressed, and says that pocket stereos are a bad idea. “It’s a slippery slope,” he says.

The crowd at the movie, a generation brought up to assume that having an iPod or other such device is normal, laughed at that line.

Today, we have devices that, if not bearing the Apple logo and the Apple name, are inspired by the vision that Steve Jobs forced through and made real. He literally invented an industry and we have benefited from it. Name one politician who has done as much for us.

Sure, Apple is a giant capitalistic corporation set up to make money, but how many people all over the world have taken Steve Jobs’s vision and literally made a revolution? He didn’t invent most of the technology out there, but he made it possible.

It would have been terrible for the world if he had decided that the state of California or the nation needed his leadership, and then done as so many others in business have done and run for office. No, he may have been a narcissist and self-focused like a politician, but he decided that his time was better spent being a genius and a visionary. And we should all be grateful.

Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect. He drove people hard, and made lots of enemies. He terrorized people, I heard in “Triumph of the Nerds.” He demanded much and accepted nothing less than the absolute best, and even then wasn’t satisfied. His faults are legion, as a person and as a businessman.

But he knew as few did that technology could move the world forward.

The announcement of the new iPhone 4S was a disappointment to many, and it brought the news that the previous generation phone, the iPhone 3GS, was going to be given away for free with a two-year renewal of service with AT&T. I went to the AT&T store Wednesday and picked up a new iPhone. While there, I told the salesclerk that I had heard a few months ago that 30 years ago, telephones did one thing. They rang.

Today, telephones do everything, and the line between a telephone and a computer is blurring. We carry devices today that can play music, make calls, send e-mail, surf the web, start a revolution, change our lives, change our world.

In the store, there were whole displays of phones of all different types, running all different kinds of systems.

I had no idea that Steve Jobs was losing his battle for life today. At age 56, he’s accomplished more than people twice his age. I feel sad for the people who knew and loved him. They are grieving the loss of someone who was more than a tech visionary, more than a businessman; they are grieving the loss of a beloved family member. They have the best reason to grieve.

We can move on, continue to use these products and make our future. Apple has, I’m sure, lots of creativity left. New versions of old products will come out with new ideas and new capabilities.

The story is old. Steve Jobs trying to persuade John Sculley to join Apple and be its CEO.

The word is that he asked Sculley if he wanted to sell soda water all his life, or come with Jobs and change the world.

Sculley made his choice. He went with Jobs.

In a way, we all did.

RIP Steve Jobs. And thank you for great products. We will try to be worthy of them.

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October 6, 2011 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , ,

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