With his black turtleneck, wire-rimmed glasses and conspiratorial grin, Steve Jobs was arguably the best ambassador ever between androids and humans.
When Jobs died Wednesday at 56 after protracted combat with pancreatic cancer, the world lost a valuable shuttle diplomat between computers and tablets and gadgets and animated robots, and the people who so desperately long to relate to them.
“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” Apple, the company Jobs co-founded, said in a brief statement. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”
In memoriam, the Apple.com website last night featured a full-screen photo of Jobs – turtleneck, glasses and grin — and this epitaph: “Apple has lost a visionary and a creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”
The tech world lost a leader; the creative world lost a soulmate. He straddled both worlds like a colossus.
Through his work at pioneering companies like Atari, Pixar, NeXT and, of course, Apple, Jobs imagined ever-present, all-purpose, people-friendly gizmos that bridged the divide between poet and programmer, music lover and machinist, grandparent and gamer, technoid and virtually everyone else.
The genius of his innovative Macintosh operating system, with its mouse-controlled cursor and icons, was the simplicity and ease of its graphical user interface – the design on the screen that enables users to understand the various computer programs. In a metaphoric way, the iconic Jobs was his interface come to life, enabling Apple aficionados to understand the myriad and miraculous ways that iMacs and iPods and iPhones and iPads can enhance human existence.
He also understood on a profound level that no operating system lasts forever. “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” he told the Stanford University graduating class of 2005. “Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
He preached a techie version of liberation theology, espousing that, ironically, by using machines we might liberate ourselves from machines.
Not only an American dreamer, Jobs was an American doer. In this country obsessed with creating jobs, Jobs created. He asked not what we could do for machines, but what machines could do for us.
To some who knew him, apparently, Jobs was supercompetitive, overdemanding and, unlike the machines he designed, not always easy to interact with. But for many, he was a one man Genius Bar.
He was like a scout sent back from the future, to assure everyone that whatever was coming was coming in peace and meant no harm and that we were in good hands.
And he was a wunderkind – eternally youthful, even in his dwindling emaciation. Boyish, brash, brilliant. Like the Beatles, Muhammad Ali, Jim Henson and yes, his rival Bill Gates, Jobs was one of those eternal change agents that America hangs its hopes and hipness on.
Steve Jobs may have died Wednesday, but the vast, virtual world of interconnected computers that he helped create is alive with Steve Jobs videos and photos and memories and testimonials and appreciations – like this one.
He is not gone. He will not be forgotten. His soul is in the machine.