The world gives us so few who provide a way for us all to see in new ways. It always hurts when they leave. The effused sadness that has spread through the internet from the news of Steve Jobs’ death is to be expected. We lament when things are taken from us, and I’d say that Jobs’ death (like Henson’s, like Disney’s) took a valuable lens onto the world from all of us still here. His way of seeing gave us a desirable path forward, and offered a way to live better with all of this technology. It was a way built on empathy and laced with magic. Technology and design have the potential to be life-enhancing, and I have never felt that more acutely than when using the things Steve helped make. Jobs liked to say computers were a bicycle for the mind, and with that understanding came something that was always left unsaid: a bicycle can be used for a commute, but it should also be used to joyride.
Today seems to be a suitable day for us all to step back and assess the influence and legacy of the work that we do. Jobs always said he wanted to put a ding in the universe. We don’t have to be quite so ambitious in scale, but it does seem prudent to consider the effect of our work in this larger concept of time. How will our efforts affect people now, and how will the way they change people extend into the future? The sadness you have (if you feel it) is not from a come-back story ending, or the changing of guard at a company, or from a connection to a device you carry with you daily. That sadness is for the loss of a man who unabashedly devoted his life to making things that helped others live well.
We all have that same opportunity. Take a moment to consider your job. Boil it down to its essence: you make things for other people. The most important concept to learn from Jobs is embedded in how we feel after using one of his products. That very same thing is happening now in his wake. Look closely and you will see it: wonderful experiences have an afterglow to them. The delight we find in what we do is in some way lost in the moment, but captured in our memories.
"Something had to be done; it was hovering over a hundred degrees fahrenheit in New York. The natural inclination is to find a cool place: lying on a blanket in the shade of a tree, finding a seat in the self-service ice coolers outside grocery stores, or setting up shop in those secret stock rooms that are only seen through the slatted gaps between the rows of soda bottles and beer cans in gas stations. It was a fight for life, so it’s wise to forge meaningful alliances. The smart ones find company in the things we dare not destroy from heat, the things we cherish and protect from the elements. So you go to museums to look at paintings worth millions while imagining margaritas and sno-cones, or stand in the shade of a giant Olmec head and think about how the rock is cool, so maybe you won’t be judged by the other museum goers if you press your face up against the monstrous stone cheek. I found myself in the Natural History Museum looking at their dinosaur bones and wondering about how they dealt with the heat of their fiery extinction. I hadn’t been to the museum since I was 7 or 8, and in the 20 years since, my feelings about it hadn’t changed very much. The museum was still a place for the long wonder, to marvel at the enormity of life, the length of time, the shortness and insignificance of our worries. I felt the pang of a truth I had not felt since my last visit: I am a speck. When one realizes how long they have been alive, they also realize how long they have not been so. Time is long and the rocks and bones tell us so, but the joy and exuberance of the kids I saw at the exhibit reminded me of my own when I was their age; it wasn’t so long ago that I was the same kid, mad-dashing between skeletons, excited about the idea of enormous, mysterious lizards crawling the landscape of the Cretaceous period. And there I saw my former self, witnessing the same marvel in the ones who come after me about the same so long ago. I suppose it helped me to realize that no matter how long or short the time may be, it is always special to come back to a place and to realize that the wonder is still there."