Until I got my iPad for Christmas, the only Apple product I had ever owned was an iPod that ended up collecting dust on my dresser. A cool product, but since I couldn’t work out with it, I never much used it.
My iPad, however, is another story. For me, it is a tool I use daily. I take notes, read books, newspapers, and other online content, review and mark-up legal documents for work, and listen to music, play games, and update online social media. I’ve used it to make videos of events, take high quality pictures, and keep my kiddos quiet in church (and in the early hours on Saturday morning when I pretend I will be able to sleep in). It is everything my laptop is, except, perhaps, a word processor.
This isn’t supposed to be a paean to my iPad, but a review of Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. The more I used my iPad, the more I began to wonder at its history. As a lifelong PC user, I have always found Mac users unnervingly cult-like, professing a loyalty and adherence to their Apple products with almost religious like fervor. (It’s not unheard of for Mac users to be accused of having a ‘superiority complex,’ either). With an Apple product in hand, I found myself curious about my own proclivities, as well as the history of the tool. Why was it Apple could inspire such devotion, to a mere consumer product, to boot?
I picked up the Steve Jobs biography hoping to find out, or at least shed a little light on it.
I suppose there are a lot of ways to look at Steve Jobs. However you view him, though, it’s hard to dispute his success in technology, design, and animation. Not quite an inventor or engineer, Jobs thought himself more an artist, and perhaps he was. He had an attention to detail and a vision of minimalism that allowed him to build great products that changed how we compute, listen to music, and make purchases, to say nothing of his contributions to the digital animation industry with Pixar.
Despite his genius, Jobs was not easy to get along with. His critiques of others work was usually unfiltered, and he would either deride it or praise it. It was either absolute rubbish (though he would usually describe it with a four letter word) or pure genius. There was no in-between. (At least one person I know has on several occasions referred to Jobs as a member of the equus africanus asinus genus, and not favorably).
Among other things, I also learned that:
- Jobs was adopted, but he never would meet his real parents, even after his sister found them.
- He was, clearly, a child of the ’60s, and even went so far to suggest that doing LSD was a good idea.
- He spent seven months in India looking for “enlightenment.”
- While he never graduated from college, it was there that he gained his appreciation for the connection between the liberal sciences and technology in a calligraphy class.
- Jobs likes to cuss.
- While working for him could be stressful, I think it would also be rewarding. If I could cut it.
His deficiencies–as a father, as a person–don’t diminish his single-minded focus to making things that were great. With each new product release, he would announce that “this is the greatest product we’ve ever made” and pull off the cover of something new, whether it was the Mac or the iPhone or the iPad. We live in a world that is deeply influenced by his contributions to technology, and while time alone will show how lasting those contributions are, and how long Apple can succeed without Jobs, it would be hard to disagree that few people have had as an immediate impact as Steve Jobs.
Isaacson’s biography is fascinating, covering warts and moles along with his contributions and genius. With direct access to Jobs, his associates, rivals, and family, it is an incomparable work that will be the defining biography for decades to come.
He allows Jobs to insert a last word, and in it Jobs quotes Bob Dylan in what for me sums up the inspiration that can be gleaned from the victories and mistakes that were his life: “you’re either busy being born, or you’re busy dying.” If there’s nothing else to take away from his life (and there is), it’s this concise statement that it is in creation and recreation that we improve and move forward. The minute we stop, though, we might as well be “busy dying.”
- Why Do We Idolize Jerks? (alternet.org)
- Steve Jobs’ home burglarized: Palo Alto home was an easy target – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
- The Items Stolen From Jobs House Included Steve’s Wallet With One Dollar In It (cultofmac.com)
- Steve Jobs – The Biography by Walter Isaacson (elegantcode.com)