Why We Mourn Steve Jobs

More

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
Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Is Technology Shifting Our Moral Compass?

"The experience of taking another human life becomes much more trivial."


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In