Steve Jobs will forever be remembered as the engineer who most shaped our technology. But he should also be remembered as the dreamer who pushed our imagination a generation into the future.
Steve Jobs will be missed dearly and not just because he invented the stuff that makes the world go. There have been plenty of inventors before him who introduced life-changing products—where would we be without the light bulb or the telephone?—but it’s hard to imagine Edison or Alexander Graham Bell were missed with the sense of personal loss that Steve Jobs will be.
It seems that this is because as much as Jobs was a technical innovator, he was a dreamer. He appealed not only to the mechanical realities of what would improve our lives, but what would make us “think different” as the Apple ads called it, about what was possible.
Jobs’ idealism always seemed youthful, and indeed he was just a kid when he began tinkering with our collective imagination. Founding Apple at just 21, he was only 29 when he shocked the world with the first Macintosh in 1984, unveiling human-friendly graphics on a computer screen for the first time.
It was his unconventional willingness to bring the mindset of human experiences to computing rather than the cold rigors of business pragmatism that caused “pandemonium” in the room when Jobs unveiled the Macintosh.
Of his notoriously more robotic competitor Bill Gates, Jobs once said, “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” It was an attitude that permeated users’ relationships to Apple products—they offered the previously unknown, and the mark of imagination they bore seemed to spur our own imaginations to go further.
Anyone who has been around small children interacting with Apple devices has had their mind blown at the ease with which children pick up an iPad, learn where their favorite songs, movies and games are and quickly begin using it as if it’s second nature—often times before they can read.
Whenever I’ve seen this phenomenon it’s always struck me as a mark of Steve Jobs’ special genius that his youthful curiosity about the most advanced computer science innovations seems perfectly geared to the open, intuitive mind of a child.
As anyone who’s marveled at how a generation of little kids can run circles around those in their 20s and 30s on new technology knows, Steve Jobs is in large part responsible for pushing the mind and imagination of an entire generation forward into the twenty-first century.
In the end Jobs will be remembered as an icon as much like Walt Disney as like Thomas Edison. He not only made life better, but he helped make it more inspiring.
Jobs’ original co-founder at Apple Steve Wozniak said in an interview, “We’ve lost something we won’t get back.” Though Jobs’ special creative genius is gone, let’s hope its spirit lives on at Apple. For while we need better and faster technology, what makes us human is the imagination to ask what’s possible—to “think different.”