It’s not often that a huge news story affects so many people. And it’s not often when that news story is about one person’s passing. AND it’s definitely not often when that person is a CEO of one of the most successful companies of the past 25 years. Today, a very rare occurrence happened, when we all learned that Steve Jobs had passed away at the age of 56.
A friend asked earlier, “when was the last time such a phenomenal CEO passed away?” I took it further – when was the last time such an influential CEO passed away? When was the last time ANY CEO’s passing made front page headlines? When was the last time a CEO’s passing deeply affected this many people, this quickly?
Regardless of your stance on the company itself, everyone I know has been affected by Steve Jobs’ vision in some way. Be it as little as using iTunes to listen to your music, or as big as standing in line outside an Apple Retail Store a week before the new iPhone comes out. Whether or not you were actively thinking about Mr. Jobs when doing these tasks, his influence was there.
I personally have been using Apple products my whole life – my dad has a Macintosh Classic that I used to play an early disk-based RPG program called “Spelunx” on. It was on this computer where I first was exposed to the Mac OS, back in version 6 or 7. We then upgraded to a bigger desktop, the Performa. Being part of the generation that essentially grew up with the first “modern” desktops, this computer took a huge part in my formative years. I learned how to type on it, wrote early school papers on it, and it provided me with my first glimpse of this new-spangled thing called the “INTERNET.” In fact, we were one of the few families that tried out Apple’s failed online service, “E-World.” Some of these names and programs may be foreign to you reading this, and I totally understand. This was all pre-iMac, when Apple first began its ascent into uber-success.
We had a Bondi Green iMac, and it was amazing. I remember being wowed by the concept of getting to see INSIDE the computer. Not to mention the first “why?” moment in realizing this computer did away with the floppy drives. Apple has always been a company who SETS the trends, rather then waiting for them to pop up. Floppy disks are a memory now, a punchline. Back in 1998, people were outraged by this “oversight” on Apple’s part. All programs were installed via floppy. People’s backups and storage were on floppys. How dare a computer company that was near-floundering in the industry make such a bold move? Obviously this was the first of many similar decisions that at first were umpopular, but in retrospect turned out to be genius moves, headed by the genius at the head of the company.
The iMac was a success for Apple fans and helped put the company back on the map, but the upward spike in popularity really came with the introduction of the first real consumer MP3 player, the iPod. This started Apple’s trend of creating a new device or technology that everyone would want. With the easy of use of iTunes already becoming a success on the Mac OS, the iPod followed suit with a portable version of your entire music library. I remember the day when I first got my iPod – I sat eagerly waiting for it to charge so I could sync it up to my ever-growing library of songs. No longer would i have to choose what CD I wanted to bring to school to listen to in study hall on a particular day. I could have ALL my CDs with me in one, card-deck-shaped device. It was brilliant. Steve’s vision was brilliant.
During these days, when Apple was finally gaining some ground in the Mac vs. PC wars, Apple pride was rampant with Mac users. In fact, if you scoured the internet during those days, you might commonly find an image saying “Made on a Mac,” kind of a “See what I can do?” fist in the face to PC users who commonly shrugged off Macs as viable computing machines. I certainly represented my Apple Pride on my old personal website. Apple users would defend their hearts out on their beloved machines, I remember trying to convince my PC-using cousin of the merits of the iMac. Apple later mirrored this sentiment when they came out with the “Switch to Mac” ads. In fact, all of their modern ads to date, especially the Justin Long vs. John Hodgman “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads, showcased Apple’s intent on appearing “cooler,” and easier to use when compared to their rival PCs. With their new slew of sleek-looking, high-functioning computers and iPods, the success started coming.
I went to a communications school in college, meaning there were a lot of what we like to call “creative types.” Typically, at least for the bulk of my generation, that meant Macs had an extremely strong presence in the hallways and classrooms of Boston University’s School of Communications building. Walk through a dorm hallway and count how many iBooks/ Powerbooks and later MacBooks you see in each room. Even if someone didn’t have a Mac laptop, I BET you they had some form of iPod. I know freshman year we all took advantage of the dorm-network sharing options provided by BU in being able to view and listen to our floormates’ iTunes libraries. This was around the time when social networks like Facebook were really starting to blossom into the lives of students my age.
Even now, as a working 20-something in the entertainment industry, Apple provides a huge influence over my day-to-day life. Not only do I work on a MacPro using Final Cut Pro and Apple’s XSAN Servers, but half of the company I work at has iPhones. Occasionally we’ll get requests to compress a video so it can be watched on an iPad. Sometimes, more often recently, we have some fun complaining about and making fun of the shortcomings of Final Cut X. I come home from work and jump on my MacBook Pro, as I am doing right now, sitting in bed. I might also have Final Cut open on my own MacPro, with an Apple Magic Mouse wirelessly linked to either computer. I’m sitting here preparing to pre-order the new iPhone on Friday. I may not think about Steve Jobs every time I open up Final Cut or turn on my computer, but I certainly know I’ve been on board with his vision for 15 years.
In thinking about Steve Jobs’ death today, and in collecting my thoughts for this post, I couldn’t help but be surprised at my own emotional reaction to the news. I was legitimately sad about this. I almost teared up when I saw the CNN headlines when I was at the gym earlier – just seeing the words on television was still unbelievable. It’s such a strange thing, trying to justify why I’m so upset about someone I’ve never met passing. I think the best explanation is that Steve Jobs is one of those rare examples of a CEO truly putting his heart and soul into his company. Steve Jobs IS synonymous with Apple. That’s why you don’t have to consciously think of him when you use an Apple product. That Apple product IS him. Everything the company does IS his vision, like it or not.
The questions arose a couple months ago when he stepped down as CEO – will Apple be the same without him at the top? CAN Apple be the same without Steve Jobs? I personally feel that if anyone could impose his vision on an entire company, it would be Steve Jobs. That’s why I am not worried as an Apple user, stock-holder and straight-out fan, about the company’s future. Steve’s vision will still be seen in future products, the people he left in charge have been a part of the “Think Different” machine for a long time. But despite this, losing someone at this level, there has to be some drop off. Something will always feel different about Apple without Steve and his black turtleneck explaining how simple their new product is – “it just works,” sounds different coming out of Tim Cook’s mouth, despite seeing how something “just works” still looks the same.
I’ll sign off with a popular quote from Steve, from his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, that many are quoting today, explaining Steve’s thoughts and advice on facing death:
“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”
For a man who’s life was his company and his company was his life, I think he could look at himself in the mirror every day and answer “Yes.”