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The man, the myth, the product
October 12, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
As the tributes pour in for Steve Jobs, the scope of his legacy grows, from distant reaches of the globe to places much closer to home.
These words are being written on something with an Apple on it. Most of the words I’ve ever written have been on something with that familiar logo. My creativity resides in my iMac, or my MacBook, or the ones before that.
Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University is ricocheting through cyberspace, both in video and transcript form. It is remarkable. The man who had been put up for adoption at birth, never graduated from college and had been living with cancer for years said that being fired may have been the most valuable moment in his career —and that security and conventional definitions of “success” can be the greatest impediments to true creativity.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish,” he advised.
He’s been likened to Thomas Edison as an inventor, Henry Ford as a manufacturer and Walmart founder Sam Walton as a retailer, all rolled into one.
He was also the Walt Disney of our times, not only for his part in the creation of Pixar animation, but for sharing Walt’s belief in imagination as the spark of the human spirit. Friday, June 29, 2007, after customers had waited in line all night to buy the first iPhones, was also the day Pixar’s “Ratatouille” opened in theaters … in first place at the box office.
Amidst all the eulogies lies a sometimes overlooked chapter in his past. Rather than studying computer engineering or some other tech field in college, Jobs had been drawn to calligraphy.
Somehow that feels crucial in the rise and fall and rise again of Apple. It’s that elegant sense of design, from the bite out of the Apple through the proportionately scaled fonts on the screen, all the way to the techno-chic of the iPad or latest iPhone that makes them essential fashion accessories as much as auxiliary brains you can carry in your pocket.
One of Steve Jobs’ favorite words to describe Apple style was “cool!” His enthusiasm was as much his trademark as the jeans and black long-sleeved T-shirts at those product launches that made him the rock star of geekdom.
It’s hard to think of anyone in our lifetimes who has played such a far-reaching role shaping the world we live in. Hollywood is already amping up to do the movie version of Walter Isaacson’s upcoming biography of Jobs, although words like “driven,” “demanding,” “dissatisfied” and “demons” are showing up in the early buzz about the book’s subject.
The media hubbub makes it hard, when it comes to Steve Jobs, to sort out the man, the myth and the product. Equally fascinating and ambiguous were the personal expressions flooding email trees and social networks following his death last week.
It was as though we had lost a close member of the family, even though he wasn’t really. He had gone to my wife’s high school, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had grown up around the corner from her in Sunnyvale, Calif. That’s as close as I come.
Still, for many, Steve Jobs’ passing seems to have left a huge hole in their personal identities. The term is Apple “fanboys,” even though my dear personal friends who obsess over each and every new Mac product are too old to actually be “boys,” and some don’t pass the gender test, either.
As protests against Wall Street and corporate greed continue to grow and spread across the country, I can’t help noticing that Apple gets a pass. So do working conditions in the Chinese plant manufacturing the latest i-Whatever, whose employees were using the roof for suicide leaps before the managers put up nets to stop the falls.
Others have observed that the little “i” in front of the Mac or Pod or Pad or Phone translates into a capital “I” in our wirelessly connected, self-absorbed society that keeps finding new ways for us to look at one another on screens, rather than eye to eye.
Actual human contact is far messier and comes with more risks than the smooth, gleaming surfaces of the latest version of it rendered by Pixar. In the shifting sands of the silicon universe, Apple and its competitors vie to produce the newest device or software to give us each the world, not as it is, but in our own image of what we want it to be. Cool!
Except they’re not giving it — they’re selling it. And it’s not cheap.
People who aren’t avid Old Testament readers or lit majors may forget that it was Eve’s bite out of the apple in the pursuit of knowledge that got her and Adam evicted from the Garden of Eden.
Paradise lost — sorry, hon.
These words are being written on an iMac. I love my iMac. Cool!
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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