Why We Mourn Steve Jobs

It is a strange thing to mourn the death of the chairman of one the most profitable companies in the world. But we do.

Steve Jobs believed in more for everyone: more money for him and his shareholders, more power through personal technology for the people. He was the white wizard in the black turtleneck holding the forces of decline at bay. Apple enjoyed one of the greatest runs in the history of industry right into and through the teeth of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Steve Jobs was hope backed by manufacturing and an empowering outlook on life, a child of the grooviness and bigthink of the 1970s married to the drive of the 1980s.

So, as Occupy Wall Streeters and Tea Partiers cry in outrage that the American system is crumbling under corporate influence, many sympathetic to their causes pause and note the passing of a businessman.

Jobs created objects of prestige that induced envy because they could change your everyday life. But then, like Henry Ford before him, Jobs quickly pushed those objects down the socioeconomic pyramid. What was once only for the rich would be for everyone. Just wait. The great forces of technology and industry were working to make it so! It is appropriate that a version of his defining invention, the iPhone, will be free (with a contract) soon.

At the same time, Jobs the man embodied a new way to think about work, countercultured in the petri dish of the Bay Area in the 1970s. The point of work was not to create glory for the country. The point of work was not to advance slowly up the corporate ranks until you got a watch and a retirement party. No, the point of work was self-fulfillment. Your job should provide nothing less than the completion of yourself. You should do what you love, Jobs urged in his famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life," he urged the students. And yet to produce Apple products requires that thousands of workers flawlessly execute Jobs' business plans, which is to say his life.

We mourn his death as if he were a beloved state leader precisely because he embodied some glorious piece of what it is to be American with all our contradictions. He was an exception to nearly every rule, went off nearly every chart, overrode any sense of purpose but his own. We could not have a society filled with Steve Jobses, yet we could all want to be Steve Jobs (even and especially people who are not American). But for most of us, the occasional glimpse of our better selves in the reflection of an iPad is enough.

Nothing was never enough for Steve Jobs. (One more thing.)

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. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. -- Steve Jobs
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