Loss of an innovator

Innovation is a word that gets bandied about a lot these days; Steve Jobs defined that word. Looking over Jobs’ life work, which includes the personal computer, the iPod and the iPad, it’s hard not to marvel at the way one man changed so much. He and the other original founders of Apple Inc. believed in a world of personal computing, of the user being one of the masses rather than the programming elite.

The mark Jobs has left on our culture will be his renewal of the humanist commitment to the individual, and shepherding that commitment into the digital age. Before the personal computer, the calculation power of the machine was reserved only for institutions. Before the iPhone, phones were largely generic, leaving little room for consumers to put themselves into their devices through personalization. And before the iPod, music remained mostly a shared experience, characterized by mainstream, gatekept radio playlists seeking to serve the greatest number.

It is no accident that Jobs’ innovations, with the help of the Internet, democratized information and media so that each person with sufficient means could access the world at his or her fingertips. And how easy it was to do. The Macintosh personal computer was not only the first to use a graphical user interface, it also pioneered the mouse. Everything that we take for granted now in casual computing was understood by Jobs to be revolutionary, and in the 27 years since, the mouse and interface have not only thrived, but evolved. The computer was now no longer just for work but also for play. With the iPod Touch and the iPhone, Jobs’ recent focus on mobile gaming continued this desire for the human to use technology for pleasure.

That commitment to the humanity’s relationship with technology continued until Jobs’ death: Only pick up an iPhone and you already know what to do. Through semiotics, design and an understanding of the desires of the users, Jobs saw technology that anyone could use. Because of Jobs and his innovations, we are now a more unified culture. The view of the human mind and what we find visually pleasing that Jobs had was invaluable. It was like he could speak to each of us, learn our stories and what he could build that would suit us as a person and as a part of our society.

Ironically, by basing Apple’s device’s on insights into what was common about the way our brains worked, those devices have allowed us all to be more uncommon, more individual. Take, for example, music. Instead of huddling our collective attentions around radio and wading through the random, pre-screened sounds of FM, one can now customize his or her entire listening experience with a device that rests safely in one’s pocket. And, of course via personal computer, anyone can explore in as deep as desired any foible or whim or curiosity that arises from within. And it’s what we take from these curiosities that defines us. Through his technologies, we are all better people for having been touched by his work. He will be missed.