Steve Jobs: The human lesson from computer icon

by | Aug 28, 2011 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The Wall Street Journal headline read: “Jobs’ Legacy: Changing How We Live.”

Well. Yes and no.

No doubt Steve Jobs, who announced his resignation this past week, had an impact on the world. The man who shaped Apple into the most influential company of our time also changed global technology forever.

Go anywhere on the planet. See a kid with an iPod. A businessman with an iPad. Teenagers with iPhones. A row of Apple computers in a classroom. All of it began somewhere in Jobs’ amazing mind.

The music business was revamped because of Apple. The computer business was revamped because of Apple. The cellular phone business, the book business, the online shopping business, the app business – all have been forged, molded, rewritten or turned on their ears by Apple.

And Jobs was involved with all of it.

So, yes, considering how those things affect our day-to-day existence, you have to say Jobs changed “how we live.”

On the other hand, he quit because he’s sick.

And in that way, nothing’s changed since the dawn of time.

‘That day has come’

Jobs is a harsh yet humbling reminder that we can never overpower our mortality. History is rife with men who seemed to build their way past the grave. Pharaohs. Alexander the Great. Countless emperors and kings.

In the end, no matter how large their tombs or how jeweled their coffins, they left the world as they entered it.

Jobs has built the modern day equivalent of the pyramids, he has wealth beyond measure and creations that will go down in history. Yet he is only 56, a relatively young man by today’s standards. And although details of his illness are a bigger secret than the insides of the next iPhone, he has previously struggled through pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant. He has had several health-related leaves of absence.

Now he steps aside permanently from the role that was his birthright. His mind is still up to the task.

His body is not.

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Jobs wrote in his resignation letter. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

And with that, a man who thinks beyond most of his contemporaries may face his mortality before them.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

We live in heady times. Think about the powerful men who have been felled in the last 10 years. The iconic – from Walter Cronkite to Michael Jackson – took their last breaths, despite being considered the best in their fields. The villainous – like Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein – are gone from the world, despite their desires to control it. The ironfisted – like Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali or Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak – have lost their grip, despite the decades they held it.

No amount of power is permanent. No list of accomplishments is a shield. No bright light of fame can throw a larger shadow than the one that overtakes you in the end.

Jobs changed so many things, from tiny music players to complex operating systems, things that improved the efficiency of our lives, the speed of our lives, the entertainment, communication and wow factor of our lives.

But he did not change “how we live” – not in the big picture. We’re still born, we still die and we’re still here for a limited yet unknown period. Some of us smoke and drink and live to be 90. Some of us exercise, watch our weight and get a terminal illness at 35.

I once read where Jobs told a reporter that he was saddened when his business took him away from his children for more than a day or two. It was a rare glimpse into a closely guarded private life. Yet it spoke to something I imagine he feels even more strongly today.

We are still, no matter what our accomplishments, only human. And the ultimate operating system is still a mystery.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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