(photo image taken from smashiphone.net)
I first fell in love with a Mac during my university days. This alas, was many, many moons ago. In those days, not everybody had a PC, much less a laptop, and the common PCs in the computer labs were always heavily in use. But, in a quiet corner of NUS, I chanced upon a quiet oasis of IT haven. It was a Mac lab. There weren’t many Mac users then, so a terminal was always available. There was no Microsoft Office for the Mac either, so reports and papers were done on Pagemaker. Even then, the Mac Lab was a place where, as Shakespeare once wrote, “we happy few” hung out.
Those were the days before the return of the prodigal son. Even then, there was something about the Mac operating environment that spoke to me – the simplicity, the ease of use, the quiet elegance. Windows spoke of the ethos of work, of the grunting spirit of striving, of elbow grease – never mind pretty, just get it done. The Mac, it seemed even then to me, spoke another language –it invited the user to expression, to experimentation. It seemed to whisper the almost subversive notion that discover was half the fun; that discovery was fun. It was technology that exuded humanitarian values. It didn’t say, “Use me”, but instead, it suggested, “join me, we can do good things together”.
As you can tell, I was hooked. After I left the university, I was looking to buy a Mac, but at that time, they were pricey, the value proposition was iffy, and it was no secret the company was bleeding red. I loved Macs, but I was even fonder of my hard-earned cash. So I looked, and hoped there was still life yet for my beloved company.
Comes the hour, comes the man. Steve Jobs returns to Apple in 1997, when the company buys over NEXT, the company he ran after leaving Apple, in a desperate bid to revive its stalling efforts at re-developing its OS. Well, the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
And I finally, bought my first Mac – a svelte snow-white iMac. Soon after, I added a G3 Powerbook. My girlfriend then thought there was something odd, but oddly adorable about my devotion to a computer system. Unfortunately for her, she stuck around (she’s my wife now), so she’s been using Apple products for the last couple of years. She finally sees my point.
And what is the point? Readers will doubtless come across Steve Jobs’ inspiring commencement speech, which offers some of the clearest outlines of the thinking and philosophy of this sometimes enigmatic and controversial icon. You’ll also probably hear the oft-cited quote about how Apple products represent the marriage of arts and technology. Others have written about how Apple has humanized technology, and its products manifest this “soft machine aesthetic” .
I admire Steve Jobs, but I don’t idolize him. He was a billionaire, a big-time CEO of one of the most valuable companies on earth, and you don’t get there by being a teddy bear. The tirades, the mind-games, the sheer force of will he possessed meant he couldn’t have been the easiest person to work for. But time and experience seems to have tempered him: reports suggests that Apple is in good hands, with deep management talent, and its mighty balance sheet provides a formidable defence against the vagaries of the consumer market. In the end, the people he trained, inspired and left behind maybe his most enduring legacy yet.
Death however, is the great Leveler. Ultimately, the outpouring of sadness and tributes at the passing of this tech Edison suggest he has struck a resonant chord with many people, the vast majority of whom only know him through his products. For me, Steve Jobs goes beyond embodying the idea that passion and belief is the key to achievement – we hear that often enough. More than that, he stands to my mind the counter-intuitive idea, that, in the end, it is all about your heart, and how putting your heart into your efforts and your yearnings humanizes you.
Strange that such a lesson – that it’s not all about commercialism, competitive pressures and capitalism – should come from one of the most competitive and profitable business leaders of all time. But life’s like that.
Technology is a tool, but it is not the solution. Only the human heart and spirit truly opens the door to possibilities and wonderment. To me, Steve Jobs’ life and work demonstrates what happens when you “stay hungry, stay foolish”, and you don’t settle for less, even when the whole world says otherwise.
The Steve Jobs way : iLeadership for a new generation
By Jay Elliot with William L. Simon
New York, NY : Vanguard Press, c2011.
Call No.: 621.39092 ELL -[COM]
Return to the little kingdom : Steve Jobs, the creation of Apple, and how it changed the world
By Michael Moritz
New York : Overlook Press, 2009
Call No.: 338.76100164 MOR -[BIZ]
Inside Steve’s brain
By Leander Kahney
New York : Portfolio, 2009
Call No.: 338.761004092 KAH -[BIZ]
By Nur Hakim Low, Librarian, National Library Board