My Facebook wall and Google+ stream are full of a common sentiment: R.I.P. Steve Jobs. (Twitter probably is too — when I last looked it was over capacity and couldn’t sign in.)
As a teen and young adult I was raised to love Steve Jobs like I was raised to love classic rock, Detroit, and vacations at the lake up north. As a grown person I may be able to see the warts that I missed as a kid, I may have developed some new tastes, but Apple was one of my family values from time my dad brought home the first Macintosh.
The death of Steve Jobs feels personal: a sign of decades of brilliant marketing, for sure, but true in lots of ways. I’ll be calling my dad tomorrow, for one thing. I think he’s had every Mac model (even the Newton! talk about being ahead of his time!) and used to ask for copies of MacWorld as Christmas gifts from us kids. I associate Apple with my dad like some people associate sports teams or cigars.
And on that score: the other reason I take the death of Steve Jobs personally is that I feel pretty sure he’s one of the accidental engineers of geek ascendency, the shift in pop culture mores that has made technology, science fiction, role-playing games, and assorted fantasy nerd lore cool for my 12-year-old daughter in a way that it never was when I was young. He may have a screen credit on “Toy Story,” but he also deserves credit for “The Big Bang Theory,” which wouldn’t be a phenomenon today if geeks like Jobs hadn’t been making science and computers exciting and necessary for the last 25 years. To grow up a nerd and then see your team rise up and take over is powerful stuff. It moves products, yes, but it also moves people.
People like Jobs are incredibly inspirational to me because, in small but important ways, I see myself in them. Not only because I was squarely in the geek squad as a kid, but because he came back after being written off or cast out, and because I have always tried to live like this:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, 2005]
That approach never let me down either, until recently. Lately a plateau—maybe a rut—in my work and in other areas of my life have left me wondering whether my foolish optimism led me to a dead end, and whether a hard-nosed pragmatism would have served me better.
For better or worse, however, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I love my iMac, my Macbook, my iPods. When the money tide turns the iPad is top of my list. And I’ve been convinced that it’s not just OK, but essential, to Think Different.
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
“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. 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. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary” [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, 2005]