Let me be very clear: Steve Jobs was a dick.
Scientists dedicate themselves to the least dramatic line of work in order to give us the most dramatic improvements on--and understanding of--the experience of living. I've always admired scientists, and not just because I could never do the kind of book-learning required to navigate the extremities of the physical world. But unlike a great dramatist, painter or composer, a scientist is not (generally) afforded the wonderful curvaceousness of subjectivity. While a literary or cinematic expression can fuel the psyche through unique emotional experiences--including it's flaws, the notes it doesn't play, or the completely individual interpretation of its qualities by the audience--Science achieves catharsis only upon perfect success based on the parameters of our physical world. And when it does, it changes our lives; it changes history.
Steve Jobs was a special type of scientist. He was an artist. More accurately, he was a ground-breaking slave-driver. While he didn't personally discover the physical advances of semiconduction, he took on the task of arranging scientific frontiers in order to arrange our future. And unlike most men of science, his advances didn't just help explain our physical world, they helped explain our emotional world.
There's an odd fixation that Jobs has always had in regards to the aesthetics of calligraphy. You can hear about it in a good number of his interviews, the most pointed of which were in a 1996 documentary and his unforgettable Stanford commencement speech in 2005. The idea that different combinations of letters should have varying amounts of space between them is very important to Jobs. He didn't want the sterile, robotic experience of decoding lines of data into discernible text, he wanted the aesthetically pleasing experience of reading a book. Technology was art to him and he wanted it be about humanity rather than machines.
The fact that art and science were a singular codisciplinary pursuit for Jobs is even further evidenced by his purchase of the Graphics Group, a digital rendering lab which would go on to become the greatest animated film studio of all time, Pixar. The very purpose of the Graphics Group was to innovate the technology of turning zeros and ones into moving images. Today it teaches kids to follow their hearts, be adventurous, never give up, light the way forward for others, and to generally be amazing.
Jobs was a competitive, cocky, snarky ass at times, and it's hard to tell if "I want to leave a dent in the universe" is true philanthropy or megalomaniacal narcissism. It doesn't matter much to me but I think in a hundred years or so, the true scope of his dent will be more accurately realized--much the way it's hard to contextualize the size of a massive crater while you're standing in the middle of it. It's hard to recall back to a time when the computers in the home were all code and didn't have images to click on, which is probably because--thanks to Jobs--that time never really existed. And the fact that computers hijacked cellphones, cellphones hijacked walkmans, iTunes hijacked the record industry, podcasting hijacked talk radio and Mac let Windows keep the faceless cubicles while re-capturing their preferred clientele--the spirits of creativity--all these dominations have taken place in the heart of society: it's day to day culture.
I hope it fits my passion for hyperbole to say this, but I worry it might not... Steve Jobs has done more to shape the products of arts and science into our modern landscape than anyone else ever.
[No offence, Philo Farnsworth]
And if you plan on disagreeing, make sure you log off and log back on in DOS mode first...
"Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?" -Jobs to then Pepsi-Cola vice president John Sculley