(Page 2 of 2)
In this respect, Steve Jobs was perhaps in touch with his fundamental humanity more than most people. It is our tools that make us different, that for better or worse define us, and Jobs’ greatest insight was that a properly designed tool can unleash something new within us. (In early 1981, Jobs was enamored of the notion that personal computers were “bicycles for the mind.”)
This greatest of Jobs’ gifts—seeing how tools could unlock people’s lives, making those lives richer—is what Isaacson captures best. Steve Jobs provides a litany of its subject’s bad behavior, but there are also many touching tributes. After all, Jobs was loved and admired as much as he was hated and feared. This quote from his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, provides a complete, if perhaps too neat, encapsulation of Jobs as a complicated genius: “Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm.…He doesn’t have social graces, such as putting himself in other people’s shoes, but he cares deeply about empowering humankind.”
Steve Jobs’ presence informs and pervades all of my work, but this article more than most. After all, I received my copy of Isaacson’s Steve Jobs wirelessly, the day before it was available in bookstores. It appeared in the Kindle app on my iPad, unannounced. Over the next few days I could read the book on my iPad, my iPod Touch, my laptops—every device knew automatically where I’d last left off reading. I’m writing this piece on a MacBook now, and when my eyes get tired, I just expand the font size with a gesture. When I’m done I’ll drop the text into the cloud, where my editor will pick it up at her leisure.
So far as I know, not one of these devices or functions was created by Steve Jobs. Yet the sheer integration of them, their ease of use, their intuitiveness, come directly from the guy whose perfectionism informed his every day at work (and perhaps too many days when he wasn’t working). The world I live in now, filled with these tools, is unimaginable without them.
And yet he was so unpleasant—such a failure at the basic things we want any healthy human being to be. Here is one of Jobs’ daughters, Erin, volunteering to defend her father’s parenting: “Sometimes I wish I had more of his attention, but I know the work he’s doing is very important and I think it’s really cool, so I’m fine. I don’t really need more attention.” I cannot read that passage without hurting for both Jobs and Erin—and thinking about my own role as a father.
Jobs had a pervasive effect on all of us, but it seems wrong to characterize that effect as a world of things. There’s a reason that Jobs was mourned all over the world when it was announced he had died; I believe it is because the people who allowed themselves to appreciate the tools, devices, functions, and activities Jobs provided for them sensed an underlying human-centered philosophy in what he was trying to do. While many other people fill the empty spaces in their lives with religion or philosophy or philanthropic works, Jobs emphatically eschewed such diversions. His philosophy (and his philanthropy, if you will) was in his work, and he was unashamed to let his work stand for him. We understood that philanthropy when we saw it, felt it, touched it, and used it for our own ends.
Mike Godwin is a contributing editor at reason.