It may be too soon for a “legacy” commentary on Steve Jobs. But part of Job’s legacy is that he helped popularize the “having a mobile device that can do everything, from anywhere at anytime” quickness of contemporary communication. His devices helped facilitate the cultural shift toward on-the-go, real-time media consumption. Because of him (and others), we can now hear about news, process it with others and, yes, even write a blog post about it as quickly as we want to. That I’m writing this on my Apple MacBook Pro is not meta irony as much as it is an unavoidable reminder of this man’s prodigious legacy and his brand’s revolutionary reach. How many of you who are reading this now on an Apple product?
The Twitter flood of memorial thoughts this evening underscores the extent to which Jobs achieved iconic, hero status in this generation. In the last few hours I’ve seen him described as a Walt Disney figure, a Thomas Edison, a visionary and genius, a force of nature, a wizard behind the curtain. The man was regarded as a figure beyond a celebrity–a single-minded innovator who didn’t trifle in the trappings of fame, wasn’t soiled by his conquest of capitalism, but instead hunkered down and made things happen: in garages, in laboratories, in the dark rooms where inventors invent things that will change the world.
And change the world he did. He was a populist advocate for technology, bringing it out of the provinces of geekdom and making it more user-friendly, accessible, intuitive. In an era when technological progress sometimes felt overwhelming and gizmos and gadgets too complicated to bother with, Jobs and his Apple brand focused on simplicity, user-friendliness, and an attitude of “even you can understand this device!”
But it went beyond utility. Jobs also reimagined technology as something that was more than a tool, something more than a gizmo with buttons. He declared technology to be something with personality. Something with style.
The significance of this contribution cannot be overstated. In the Jobs generation, technology became an accessory and friend rather than just something we use. With our “Macs,” our iPods and ear “buds,” and above all our beloved attached-at-the-hand iPhones, we learned to have relationships and emotional attachments with our technological devices. We feel lonely when we are without them. We turn to them in boredom, in sadness, in madness. They facilitate our every social move. In a very real way, Jobs pioneered an attitude toward technology (as a social, relational, emotional hub of our human experience) that paved the way for social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Jobs made technology elegant, sexy, beautiful. He made it something inspiring and easy for students, writers, artists, designers, musicians. He made it friendly. The first time I got an iPod I immediately got a little “sock” covering for it– to keep it safe or warm or something. I don’t know. It was a little sidekick, something that I swear appeared to be smiling back at me as I ran my finger over the little wheel thing to find the song I wanted to play. Maybe it was the neon colored ads, or the soft white rounded aesthetic, or the precious manner in which “i” was a pre-fix to everything. Whatever it was, Apple mastered the art of making technology seem simultaneously simple, futuristic, homey, sweet, hip, necessary, gender neutral & fun.
The technological landscape was altered significantly by Jobs, perhaps chiefly because he helped fuse the technological to the human landscape. If there had never been a Steve Jobs, we probably would still be living in a world where technology was an indispensable part of our daily lives. But I bet that world would have been far less pleasant than the iWorld Jobs has given us.