Steve Jobs is a man many of us knew for his incredible showmanship and obsessive attention to detail. His personal life is something we’ll get a better understanding of when his authorized biography hits store shelves later this month. One of the private details of his life that we do know about is that Jobs was a Buddhist. It isn’t known if he believed in the tenet of rebirth that says after you die you’ll come back and live a life that—depending on what you’ve done in your previous life—will either be better or worse than the life you’ve lived before, but assuming he did believe in rebirth, what would a man of Steve Jobs’ caliber born in this century do with his limited time on earth?
After Jobs died I developed an incessant need to read all the stories people had published about their experiences with him or tales they’ve heard about him from trusted sources. One that stood out was Tim Carmody’s article in Wired titled “‘This Stuff Doesn’t Change the World’: Disability and Steve Jobs’ Legacy“. He quotes an interview that Gary Wolf, also from Wired, did with Jobs in 1996. In it he admits that technology matters up to a certain point, but that in the end the cycle of life is what’s most important:
Wired: What’s the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?
Jobs: The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.
Wired: That’s going to break people’s hearts.
Jobs: I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much — if at all.
These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.
Another article titled “With Time Running Short, Jobs Managed His Farewells” by Charles Duhigg for The New York Times features a telling quote by the physician Dean Ornish, one of Steve’s friends:
“Steve made choices,” Dr. Ornish said. “I once asked him if he was glad that he had kids, and he said, ‘It’s 10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done.'”
Think about that the next time you’re with your friends and family and you can’t put your stupid smartphone down to engage in some actual face to face conversation. Earlier this year MG Siegler, formerly of TechCrunch, published an article titled “I Will Check My Phone At Dinner And You Will Deal With It” where he tried to defend checking his iPhone under the table while having dinner with his parents. By the end of that article, I wanted to hurl a barrage of insults at him.
But back to the question at hand, if a man who possessed all of Steve Jobs’ attributes were born today, what would he dedicate his life to? Steve famously asked John Sculley, an adept marketer working at Pepsi who would eventually became the CEO of Apple and then kick Jobs out two years later, whether he wanted to “sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?”
The shiny toys we all enjoy playing with today, they’re the sugar water of our generation. The services we spend more time using than we care to admit (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are equally just as bad. Ask yourself, if all consumer electronics innovation stopped today, would you be happy using what’s currently the best equipment on the market for the rest of your life? Watching 1080p videos on YouTube is possible, keeping track of friends from your childhood is possible, having an encyclopedia in your pocket is possible, uploading a photo or video from the scene of a breaking event is not only possible, but a simple retweet of that piece of content is how many of us get our news. I bet every iPhone 4 owner had no problem with their device until Apple introduced the iPhone 4S, at which point they felt an illogical need to upgrade just for the sake of upgrading. The product they cherished just a few days prior is now seen as old and antiquated.
Now my apartment is located right across the street from the downtown offices of Helsinki Energy. By their entrance is one of the few charging stations for electric vehicles that exist in Finland. The subtle green LED lighting fixture atop that charging station is the first thing I see when I step outside. Why aren’t there more of those? Why aren’t all cars using electric energy? Why do we treat the people in the countries that have the rare earth metals that are required to be build batteries and other electronic equipment like slaves, just so rich, fat, well to do people in “First World” countries can play Angry Birds on their commute to work?
In less than two weeks I’m going to turn 25. I’m not a fan of birthdays since they force me to reflect upon my life and to take note that I’m one year closer to dying. In Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, which you can watch here, he said that death is the best way to keep yourself in check, that it should compel you to live the life that you want and no one else’s. He ended his speech with “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” That’s absolutely terrifying advice when you fully understand what it means. I definitely don’t like being hungry, and though I do like to explore new fields where I appear to indeed be a fool, I’m not going to leave this writing gig and all the associated perks that come with it to start attempting to fix the problems that really matter in today’s world, problems like climate change, terrorism, obesity, and even cancer.
The question is are you?
Photo via: Web Designer Depot
Recommended reading: “This Tech Bubble Is Different” by Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg Businessweek. Key quote in that piece that I failed to incorporate in this article is by Jeff Hammerbacher, who left Facebook after he realized:
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
Indeed it does.