Notes on Washington and the world by the staff of The New Yorker.
October 5, 2011
Steve Jobs: 1955-2011
Posted by Ken Auletta
Steve Jobs is dead. One big question is whether the unbelievably innovative culture he forged will live. Jobs was not a great human being, but he was a great, transformative, and historical figure. Many books were dashed off describing what a tyrannical person Jobs could be—how he took the parking spaces of the handicapped, how he reduced employees to tears. Those tales will fade like yesterday’s newspapers. What will stand erect like an indestructible monument are the things Steve Jobs created that changed our lives: The Macintosh; the iTunes store that induced people to pay for music and other content; Pixar, which forever changed animation; the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. These were more than technological feats, but Apple products were beautifully designed, as well. For three decades, even as he got older, Steve Jobs and Apple remained “cool.”
When I was in Shanghai last year, my wife and I were walking and being followed for several blocks by a young man. I thought he might have wanted to snatch a purse. But when we turned right, he turned left. I asked the local person we were with to explain that young man’s behavior.
“Oh, he just wanted to look at my iPhone.”
There were then almost no iPhones in China; instead, every corner of the city seemed to have blankets on the pavement with cheap mobile products on offer. Yet when Apple stores opened and pricey iPhones went on sale, they flew out of the store. Apple products were more than functional and sleek. They were cool.
In what may be the Gettysburg Address of graduation-speechism, Jobs spoke at Stanford, in 2005. Ever the corporate rebel, he wore jeans and dark sneakers under his black robe. He did not shave. He told three personal stories, and the third was about death, which “is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
Steve Jobs will not be replaced by the new.
Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images