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08. The Digital Craftsman

In Memory of Steve Jobs

Oct 06, 2011

I’m not as prodigious (or, indeed, as good) of a writer as Frank. His piece today was both beautiful and spot on. As such, my thoughts here will skew a bit more personal.

It is a strange thing to mourn the death of someone whom you have never met. Having witnessed September 11, 2001 from the streets of New York, I can only imagine that my grief must seem—to Steve Jobs’s friends and family—as tacky and cheap as the grieving of those who were far from New York seemed to me for quite some time after that day. Still, I do mourn the loss of Steve Jobs.

There are people whose work I admire, people who’s thinking I admire and people whose behavior I admire. I am surrounded by them every day: at work, in my personal life and online. I compare my output and actions against theirs each step of the way—perhaps too often. It’s part of my nature to experience life as a competition, albeit a friendly one. The people I admire are my competitors in a daily race. They’re one step ahead. They are my “adjacent possible.” The life and legacy of Steve Jobs by comparison, has left us all in the dust.

My feelings on Steve Jobs go far beyond this kind of competitive admiration. Steve Jobs was my hero. Not because he was wildly rich or influential (I don’t think those things mattered much to him anyway), but because of the kind of creator he was. He was a creator with a vision so consistent, so simple and clear that others around him couldn’t help but see it as well. He was a creator who understood that what we make says everything about what we believe. His successes in life and business were a direct result of these qualities. The artifacts of his work taught me what it was to be a digital craftsman.

The life of Steve Jobs showed me that it’s okay to want to “put a dent in the universe” as long as that ambition is matched by an equal ambition to make life better for everyone. It showed me that clarity isn’t seeing what’s better than what we have today, it’s seeing what should have been all along. When we hear our friends say “my 2-year-old daughter knows how to use my iPhone!” or “My grandmother is 90 and her first computer is an iPad!” we see his proof that technology can make everyone’s life better. He taught computers how to use people.

I find myself in my 29th year of life, working (Finally! Praise Jesus and hallelujah!) as a digital product designer. I get to work on projects that, for better or worse, affect the lives of millions of people in whatever small or large way. I get to invent. I am extremely lucky. So, what do I take into this work from the life and legacy of Steve Jobs? Just this: be brave enough to have a vision, sharp enough to see it clearly, and stubborn enough to make it happen.

I don’t mourn Steve Jobs because I worry about the future of Apple products. The company is in good hands. I mourn the death of Steve Jobs because I get the sense that he didn’t get to see his vision through to the end. It would have been epic. Still, here’s hoping we’re all lucky enough to see our own visions realized as thoroughly as he did his.

comments

  1. Beautifully put. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Steve Jobs will continue to be a great inspiration; continuing to mentor the creative and curious even after his death.

  2. Beautiful sentiments, Russ. Getting a little choked up with your potent quotables. Reminds me of something my 9th grade English teacher once said to me when answering a question in class:

    Instead of mildly whispering the answer from my seat, recited as if a question mark were on the end…she told me to “Stand up! Speak up! If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with conviction!”

    May we all have the conviction to “be brave enough to have a vision, sharp enough to see it clearly, and stubborn enough to make it happen.”

  3. Very well articulated. He was truly a visionary and a shining example of settling for nothing less than great. He always saw the big picture while thinking about what was best for the single individual sitting with his devices. Thank you for a great article.

  4. Very well put, Russ. I find it reassuring that so many web folk are taking the same kinds of lessons from this. I hope the world and the web will be better off because of these lessons.

    The idea of mourning a man we have never met is also common, and after reading your words, I think the act of mourning in public, on blogs and on Twitter is a result of that commonality. We all share the fact that we never met him, but have all been affected by his work. And will continue to be affected by it for the foreseeable future.

  5. I feel the very same. It’s not about mac or windows or any of that. It’s about what his life taught us. How he made life better for the people that he touched and never met. Whether you’re a mac or a pc Steve Jobs, more than likely, has touched your life in one way or another. Even though I’m all things computer, not married to mac or pc, Steve has indirectly saved my life with the creation of the iPhone. This world changing device has helped me to keep my diabetes under control so that I can be here for my kids when they get old. I am deeply entrenched in all things technology every day and I only wish that I was billionth of what Steve was. We thank you for the things that your life as taught us and its now our job to take it and expand on it to help more people. Rest in peace Steve. My condolences go out to your friends and family.

  6. Hey man. Fantastic post. Great minds think alike for sure. Or at least great minds are bummed out alike. Somehow I missed this article in the crazy flood of content during that time. So many points very well put. This is a scotch discussion next time we hang out.

    • Russ

      Definitely.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to compose this. I am still, now in 2012, trying to understand why every time I see any mention of him I get an aching feeling of loss. I loved Apple since I saw my first Mac in 1984 and Steve was the man.

    Anyway, I especially agree with your final thought that a lot of why we feel such a loss is the knowledge that he had so much more to give and create. Its the feeling of lost potential, what might have been.

    I am thinking that Siri, with all her current flaws, is another huge example of great thinking and vision. If Apple is able to carry Siri forward with the unrelenting focus that Steve required, Siri will be the mother of the NEXT digital revolution – voice control combined with semantic knowledge of you and your surroundings, with an AI brain and a humanistic response model. Its you, enhanced.

    I really miss Steve….

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