As I sit here typing away before a computer embossed with that iconic logo – the apple with one bite missing – I ponder the greatness of Steve Jobs and his place in the pantheon of American business and cultural leaders.
Jobs, the former CEO of Apple Computer Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios, died Oct. 5 after a seven-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
I wonder: If there were a Mount Rushmore for American innovators, would his face be on it?
Or will his legacy fall victim to the relentless rush of technology that he helped fuel, quickly fading into history to join others whose work changed the world – for a moment or two?
Perhaps you remember learning of the greatness of individuals such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers – whose visions altered our relationship with the world and each other.
Edison’s many gifts included the incandescent light bulb.
Wilbur and Orville Wright built a machine for flight.
And in 1876, Bell’s telephone revolutionized inter-personal communication.
These days, not quite a century and a half later, many of us don’t own or use a traditional telephone.
That Bell invention eventually is giving way – as all such devices do – to something more useful, more fun, more convenient: In this case, the portable cellular phone.
And these days, many people prefer a Jobs-developed contraption that plays music, shows movies and allows you to send instant text messages – the iPhone.
So Jobs joins a parade of great minds whose visions fell prey to the advance of time and technology – stretching from Guttenberg and the printing press to the Internet and the magic of the iPad.
Jobs shares another quality with Guttenberg: They both brought technology to the masses.
The printing press allowed for the mass-production of Bibles – previously churned out one at a time by hand.
Jobs and the company he co-founded put computers in homes and businesses in the late 1970s and early 1980s, first with the Apple and Apple II, then with the Macintosh.
Jobs got the boot from Apple for a period of time, and used the break to buy Pixar Animation from George Lucas and grow that company into an entertainment powerhouse.
He later was drawn back to Apple – which was faltering without him – and helped his old company return to the top with such items as the iMac, iPod and iTunes.
But we know that someone, somewhere is ready to bring forth an instrument to push aside all that Jobs and his teams have created. Perhaps it will be the next wave of hotshots at Apple.
A young Steve Jobs might have been troubled at that thought – that while fame and fortune could be had, immortality was unattainable.
But a new Jobs emerged after he learned in 2004 that cancer had invaded his body.
A year later, he addressed the graduating class at Stanford University, and urged those youngsters to seize the day and live their lives fully.
“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,” Jobs told those students.
“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,” he said. “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Truly, there is a difference between invention and innovation. Jobs was more a visionary leader than a scientist.
Perhaps his face should be chiseled alongside such modern giants as his computer rival Bill Gates (Microsoft) or Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), rather than in the company of Da Vinci or even Henry Ford.
For sure, there aren’t many of us who can say our lives have not been touched by this man’s endeavors.
Perhaps Jobs’ greatest contribution to our culture was his passion for doing meaningful work – a lesson we all need from time to time.
As he told the Wall Street Journal in 1993: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. ... Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful ... that’s what matters to me.”
Steve Jobs died wealthy, in many ways.
And we’re richer for his contributions – no matter how long they last.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.