(Published in Sify.com, on 13 October, 2011, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-steve-jobs-death-saddened-strangers-news-columns-lknqEUbeceh.html)
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It’s been a week since Steve Jobs passed away, and it may strike the casual observer that every media publication has been putting out personal tributes from unknown Apple users – ranging from software engineers to entrepreneurs – about how Jobs inspired them, in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to honour the man whose life, personality, morals and success story defy classification.
For a guy who brought chic and compact to technology, Steve Jobs has undoubtedly been getting some pretty clumsy tributes. Perhaps because everyone, from college dropouts who believe staunchly that the converse of “The top CEO in the world is a college dropout” holds true, to innovators who salute the profundity of “Think different”, felt an inexplicable sense of loss at Jobs’ death.
Even more inexplicably, everyone felt compelled to say something or do something, and most dished out predictable lines about what he would have come up with if he’d had a few decades more. The aam aadmi waxed poetic about how Jobs changed their lives with his gizmos, but very few eulogies had the subtlety and razzle-dazzle that captivated the man who was so enamoured of celebrities he personally delivered Macs to the likes of Mick Jagger.
There were those who decided words were futile, and spent days making portraits of Steve Jobs from images of apples, Apple products, and processors used in Macs. And this animated tribute just about sums up Jobs’ greatest achievement – making a line of expensive, unnecessary gadgets pervasive.
Steve Jobs didn’t spot gaps in the market, he created them by manipulating people to establish a customer base. He candidly admitted he was playing his audience, saying, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” He teased his competitors, publicly announcing that Windows copied everything he did and mocking the PC in advertisements.
His aggressive marketing tactics and showman launches grated on the higher sensibilities of the people who could afford his products, and the very ‘personalisation’ that became the brand mantra was used to promote mass appeal.
But his Stanford Commencement Address from 2005 has been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube, and downloaded over a million times. Public viewings of the speech left everyone with a lump in the throat at the part when Jobs speaks of conquering cancer, and of the prospect of not thinking about death for decades to come. Even in the speech, he eludes the tag of ‘college dropout’ by focusing on how he ‘dropped in’ on lectures, and saying his classes in calligraphy were the reason Apple launched with the fonts it did.
So how did this controversial man, who didn’t particularly seek to inspire, make such a deep impact on people who didn’t know him, even people who didn’t use his products? Why did people whom he probably wouldn’t have been cared to meet feel so close to him they referred to him simply as ‘Steve’?
Maybe what everyone knows but no one has said is that it isn’t Steve Jobs’ phenomenal success or incomplete education that are inspiring. And while he may have bounced back from his lows to ‘change the world’, he isn’t the only one.
What he really did was to link aesthetic appeal and pragmatic application in a way that had never been done before. He changed the world by changing perceptions. But before he began to dictate terms to technology, he took several blows for trying to. If he’s gone down in history for being able to make people lap up two versions of a hybrid between a smartphone and a laptop, he will also be remembered as the man who couldn’t sell things as adorably cute as the Puck Mouse and the Cube.
And maybe the reason Steve Jobs became a role-model is that he wrote the best algorithm for risk-taking. His successes taught us that something functional can be beautiful. And his failures taught us that something beautiful has to be functional.
That simple philosophy would guide him in planning his products, and it would seep into the people who bought them, even as they took their first entranced look at the rounded edges, gleaming surface and clean screen of their newest iToy. It would even hit the people who stared admiringly at the contraptions through glasses cases, counting the days till they had the bank balance to pick them up.
Maybe that’s why ‘Jobs’ is ‘Steve’ to most of the world. He taught us the most important lesson he learnt, in the same intangible manner his brainchildren filtered into our lives.