Steve Jobs was one of my heroes. Clad in his trademark black shirt and blue jeans while presenting the latest Apple product, he gave the impression of being an authentic leader, quintessentially himself without subterfuge.
His death saddened me tremendously, even though I suspected it was eminent. As one of the millions in mourning because of his transition, I was drawn to a recent article entitled, “Why Is Everyone So Upset by Steve Jobs’ Death?”
When Michael Jackson transitioned, many people asked the same thing. “He was only a singer and a dancer,” some said. “What is all the uproar about?” I can only surmise that those who asked that question were not familiar with Michael’s music or his message of “heal the world” that still resonate with millions of people around the globe.
So here we go again. A popular icon passes on, millions go in mourning, and a commentator is now asking why is everyone so upset.
The commentator, Constantine Von Hoffman, offers his own conclusion:
“Jobs and Apple were synonymous with each other in the public eye. Because so many of us own iPods and iPhones we feel a connection to the company. The company was named Apple to give it a friendly, approachable identity. The company’s hallmark is devices with a great user interface. They are all about ease of use. They make our lives easier/nicer, so in some way we think they are caring for us.
“Expressing sentiment over Jobs’ death is also acknowledging our emotional attachment to that microchip which has done so much for us. And which we will throw away as soon as the new model comes out.”
Perhaps that’s true for some people. My reaction goes much deeper than that, though, based on my history with Apple computers and Jobs.
My husband and I were early Apple uses, starting off with the Apple 1 in the 1980s, way before the Macintosh. We eschewed the PC (which then required understanding DOS to do anything significant with it) in favor of Apple despite the objections and disdain of our colleagues and even some friends. We did so because Apple 1 and then the Mac were indisputably better products.
Eventually, I was required by my university to drop the Mac and switch to the PC because they said they couldn’t support two operating systems. The few of us who were Mac users argued and objected to no avail. If we were using university dollars, we had to buy a Windows-based PC.
Around the same time period, Diallo, my husband, had a similar experience with a major corporation. They gave all new employees a PC to work on. Diallo discovered an unused Mac in the back room and brought it to his desk and started using it. A few days later, he was told to return the Mac to the back room and use the PC instead. Why? “Because if you start using the Mac, everyone will want one, and we don’t want to support it,” he was told. At the time IBM was king in the computing world. It was safe and it was known. Even though they knew that the Mac was a superior product, the company didn’t want to put their stamp on an unknown upstart like Apple.
Even today, whenever I use my PC and have to close out a folder or shut down a document before I can throw it in the recycling bin or send it to someone, I miss my Mac. If I try to copy a file from some device to my PC and it starts copying and then in the middle of copying tells me that I don’t have enough disk space, I miss my Mac because it did those calculations first before wasting my time. If I want to move my whole file set and operating system to another hard drive on Windows, I have to spend hours rebuilding and reinstalling everything. On the Mac, I could just copy all the files over and boot without a hitch.
I could fill pages with more examples. While the Mac was an acknowledged superior product, we were each told by our organizations that we couldn’t use it in our work because the known was preferred over the unknown.
Jobs emphasized the customer experience above all else. He was even fired for it, yet he persisted in this one principle through failures and successes, and he prevailed. He built all of his companies on his vision of a world where technology served human beings and not the other way around.
If you want to understand what Steve Jobs means to people like my husband and me, go back to that famous 1984 Superbowl commercial where greyed out people were listening to a man, Big Brother, on a huge screen. Big Brother declared, “We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology — where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths.” A woman jogger, clad in a white tank top and red shorts and chased by automatons, runs in quietly. She throws a sledge hammer at the screen, destroying it.
Now think of a tiny group of faculty members trying in vain to get their institution to support the Mac, or an employee at a corporation being told to return a brand new, unused Mac to the backroom and instead do his work on a clunky PC. If you can imagine us feeling like pests purveying contradictory truths, you will have the idea.
Neither Steve Jobs nor Apple were perfect. Any company of Apple’s size will have its issues. I’ll leave it to others to chronicle any of their serious transgressions. I don’t believing in letting the thorn overwhelm the beauty of the bloom.
Jobs committed his life and his talents to excellence, service, innovation, and commitment to his ideals despite all obstacles. As an authentic leader, he was an inspiration to millions, including me. I salute him.