"There may be no greater tribute to Steve Jobs' success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented." -Barack Obama
The world is full of visionaries.
We are, as a species, endlessly blessed with numerous beings of every shape, size and nationality who can see entire industries, economies, human conditions, nation-states, biological phenomena, the bend of history and the arc of time itself and then imagine or re-imagine ways they can work differently, more humanely, altogether better.
What's more, the world is rife with people who've made enormous difference via their grand visions, who've helped millions, transformed lives, who are largely unsung and who may never receive Nobel prizes or massive media attention, much less seven billion in stock options and a mansion on the hill. These are people who work on some of the most difficult problems of our age -- food production, disease, human rights, water, energy, the very survival of the species.
So then. No one can accuse Steve Jobs of being unsung. He was far from unappreciated, had no shortage of ego or wealth or power. And you can say his contributions to the world of technology and media weren't exactly as essential to the betterment of the species as, say, ending starvation in Somalia, figuring out the triggers for HIV or ending our global dependence on oil.
But then again, maybe they were. Let's just say it outright, with only a trace of hyperbole: the man nearly singlehandedly made modern tech life worth living, worth having, worth engaging. There's not a pleasing, beautiful device or elegant GUI alive today that hasn't been touched by Jobs' and Apple's sophisticated design ethos, from cars to homes, staplers to lamps, coffeemakers to vibrators.
The truth is undeniable: Because of Jobs, everything changed. Nay, everything got better. Deny it at your peril.
Did Apple/Jobs invent it all from scratch? Of course not. Lumpish, dinosaur-like PCs were around before the breakthrough Apple II. MP3 players existed in some barely usable form before the iPod/iTunes juggernaut made it all make sense. Cell phones were a crapshoot buffet of inscrutable interfaces, haphazard form factors and lug-nut functionality before the iPhone steamrolled the industry and made every phone giant from Nokia to RIM to Sony into a gasping wannabe.
This, more than anything, appears to be the Jobs way. From chaos to grace. From confusion and incoherence to a singular, Zen-like clarity, ease, a mystical, trademark je ne sais quoi that no other visionary, no other CEO or company on the planet has been able to match. And from the looks of things, it might be awhile.
Do you want to try it? Imagining what the world would have been like without the Jobs influence, his design perfectionism, his Cassandra-like ability to see what would make our computers, our music, our conversations, our digital worlds more interesting, more gratifying, more all-around enchanting to use? It's a bit like imagining the world if chocolate had never been invented. Or light bulbs. Or singing. Sure it's OK and all, but, you know, damn.
Maybe this is the only question that matters, and the one that so easily puts Jobs on par with the most revered visionaries of this, or any age. What price grace? How to properly value not merely Chinese-made gizmos, but an entire liberal arts-inspired ethos that insists on making the messy, ridiculous modern world a thousandfold more lucid and enthralling, on making products that actually enrich lives, that inspire you to create beyond your normal range and capabilities? ...
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate. He recently wondered who in your life you find perfectly toxic, cheered that the gay agenda will see you now, and that you seem to enjoy always walking in circles. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...