How Apple Revolutionized Our World

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Theroux

Steve Jobs's dazzling inventions have forever changed us.

Steve Jobs, An American hero, is wholly authentic because--in addition to being a brilliant, cranky inventor in the mold of Gyro Gearloose or Thomas Edison--he has a hero's history of failures and false starts that he turned into successes. He is an American hero in another sense, too: a supercool billionaire, the dropout son of the early '70s counterculture whose seminal text is The Whole Earth Catalog. He is resigning from Apple at the height of his achievement, the pinnacle of his fame, the most gorgeous gracility of his charisma, his fortune growing miraculously in spite of his salary of $1 a year--all without the benefit of a necktie.

We know the world, and each other, better because of him. With his Apple Mac he managed, in the words of Walt Whitman, to "unscrew the locks from the doors." He precipitated an enlightenment. But as with the dazzling light of many great inventions, unexpected shadows were created--the greatest of which is an eroding of privacy, now verging on a total loss of solitude. Beware of darkness.

The essential things to know about Jobs's life emerged in a speech he gave in spring 2005 at Stanford University. It was a commencement address, an ungripping form, and yet Jobs's speech was one of the wisest I have ever read. The style in which he framed the address shows that while the computer world gained a supergeek, the literary world might have lost a powerful storyteller. In fact, his life has a weirdly fictional flavor, as though he's the embodiment of the urgent dreamer.

Jobs prefaced his Stanford remarks by saying: "I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation." He then told three brief stories--the first about how he had been adopted as an infant; the second about being fired from Apple; the third about being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Three serious reversals that illustrated rejection, exclusion, and near extinction. But he gave significance to each one, saying how it sent him into the wilderness, strengthened him, made him the lateral thinker and innovator we know him to be. Look deeper into Jobs's influences and you see not microchips and circuit boards but India, the Beatles, LSD, and Buddhism. In the nervous, incurious world of today, these markers are salutary for their apparent waywardness. …