I was washing the dishes tonight when my wife walked in and told me Steve Jobs had died. For an instant, inexplicably, I was angry--I had been on my Mac all day, and hadn't heard anything. Steve Jobs couldn't be dead. But of course it was true.
After we had put the kids to bed, I went out for a long walk. I kept thinking about Steve Jobs, and for a long time it was as though I had just that moment heard the news, like it was a problem I kept staring at in my mind and could not solve.
One of my first thoughts was that we should not mourn his death. Everyone dies. It is unfortunate that someone like him should die at such a young age, when without his disease he might easily have lived another thirty years. But it is no less fair for Steve Jobs to die of cancer than it is for anyone else. We should not mourn him; instead, we should celebrate his life and accomplishments. We should recognize our good fortune to have been able to share in and benefit from his work, and to watch an authentic genius develop his powers in such glorious profusion.
This is all true. Yet even so, I was sobbing. You can't explain sadness, any more than you can do funny by explaining the punch line to a joke. It's a horse, see. It has a long face. No. You must come at it another way.
There is a misconception among people who don't care for Apple products any more than any other computer or electronics gear that people who buy Apple constitute a kind of a cult. We are snowed by good advertising, by the newest shiny plaything. We desire not the thing itself but the logo only; we think that owning these objects with that logo will admit us into the cult, and will apply to us whatever magic we imagine in the advertising.
I hate this kind of thinking. Not because it is aimed at people very like myself, but because I truly don't care about those things. I love Apple for entirely different reasons, and to dismiss Apple as a cult is to deny that the good it represents is possible.
The products are, of course, excellent. They are easy to use. They are free of the hundreds of tiny annoyances that plague other computers. They remove obstacles between me and my work, photos, correspondence, and music. They are built very well, of high quality materials. They look nice; thy are even beautiful. They are durable and require little maintenance. They are full of affordances and opportunities that increase their usefulness. They reward my loyalty by working well together; a new Apple TV is not just useful in itself, it expands the usefulness of my Macbook Pro, my iPhone, and my iPad.
They invite you to create. Edit a film. Record an album. Write a book, and design and print it besides. Take goofy pictures of yourself. Draw a picture.
Yet even defining all of these qualities does not quite get it, the sadness.
It is personal. I of course never met Steve Jobs, and I'm sure I don't know anything about him that he didn't want the public to know. I know him only through the products of his work. But Steve Jobs treated me and everyone else with great generosity and respect. Steve Jobs did not see the public as an ignorant mass to be exploited, as Facebook and Google do. He did not insinuate himself into our lives and then use our dependence to extort us, as the banks, phone carriers, and cable companies all do. He didn't compromise his product to save money, or pander to us, the way the auto makers do. He worked relentlessly to create the best products, and he hoped we would have the sense to buy them. It is capitalism at its simplest and best: sell a great product at a fair price. And it worked so well that the company Steve Jobs created literally from nothing is now the biggest and richest in the world.
Through its products and its own success, and in turn through its transformation of the many industries it touches, Apple has created and delivered the future. Can you name another entity that can do this? Can you name a person, a school, a company, a city, a country whose vision of the future is as optimistic, as credible, or as appealing to you personally as Apple's?
Maybe it is this: I mourn Steve Jobs because he made me believe in the future. It's a future where high quality, powerful tools for expanding man's creativity and knowledge are available to everyone, and are easy enough to learn that anyone can use them. Virtually every field of creative work today uses, and in many cases depends on and could not be imagined without Apple's products. And it's all because Steve Jobs had that vision, and had the will and ability to make it real.