Jobs for the future

By Harry van Versendaal

Frankie is 3. The other day, he was trying to scroll down an old family photo, swiping his fingers on the print.

This, of course, is all thanks to a charismatic guy from California with a queer penchant for black turtlenecks — quite a surprise from the man behind some of the sleekest gadgets produced over the past decade.

Millions of people out there received the news of Steve Jobs’s death on one of the devices that he invented. His death, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer, sparked a frenzy in the social media — even the resurrection of the Greek prime minister, who saw fit to tweet about the news.

Public reactions to the news were, in many cases, grossly out of proportion. But again, there are people out there who put their names on months-long waiting lists and camp outside Apple stores through the night hoping to be the first in line to put their hands on every new iPhone or iPad. But Jobs was not to blame for the madness.

Apple’s co-founder was a technological and marketing genius, for sure. But the key to the company’s success lies elsewhere. Jobs understood that a soulless device can be cool but also functional. Apple products became the digital reincarnation of the Bauhaus “form follows function” principle. Navigating cyberspace on an iPad touch screen is so natural and intuitive, the machine feels like an extension of your fingers. Jobs invested in building a personal relationship between the human and the machine, elevating use into an “experience.” According to a recent BBC study, Apple imagery causes a religious experience in the brains of devotees.

More importantly, perhaps, Jobs turned an entire business paradigm on its head, forcing giants in the media and music industry to adhere to his whim. By launching the iTunes and App Store, he redefined the music and smartphone markets. Turning a deaf ear to criticism, he killed the floppy disk drive and went on to ring the death knell for the DVD and the mouse. Jobs put the Internet into our pockets. And, yes, he created new needs, by always being a step ahead. As he, somewhat provocatively, put it, “it isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Was Jobs a narcissist and an authoritarian? Most probably. But he did manage to acquire cult leader status without making the promise of an afterlife — quite a unique achievement in human history.

Did he change our world for the better? People will never agree on that. Did he change it, however? A 3-year-old boy holds the answer.

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