Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs, a true original

copied from The Oregonian Editorial Board
It's hard to peg a man who was as much seer and savant as he was engineer and corporate manager. But Steve Jobs was all those things, with a good dose of showman thrown in. It's hard, too, to estimate his impact upon the everyday life of Americans. That's because the things he brought to market reshaped habits to such a degree that, well, the jury is out on whether Apple's iPhone, iPad and uncluttered computers have changed us forever. The answer for now is: probably. But the greater question for now is how did one man do this? Jobs would, of course, have denied it was all him. And it wasn't. His near-fetish for hiring wildly creative and superbly equipped designers helped to make Apple the idea factory that it is. But it was Jobs' unrelenting insistence on economy, simplicity and cleanliness in both design and function that brought his company back from the dumpster two decades ago. Since then, Apple has released intuitive products that by their wide popularity and use have forced a rethinking of how technology might actually enhance, rather than complicate, life. Great artists have always questioned complication and sought the rigor of the clean line, whether Ernest Hemingway in spare, heartbreaking sentences or Miles Davis in just a few breathtaking notes. It would be wrong to call a computer's operating system art, or for that matter, to call a mass-produced, plastic writing tablet sculpture. But it wouldn't be far off to suggest that Apple devices showing glimmers of those attributes not only perform very cool tasks but also outsmart happy users by eliminating clutter and complication -- and the arcane challenges thrown down by so many competitors. In that sense, Steve Jobs was as much an artist as he was a thinker and tinkerer and businessman. He eschewed committees, large focus groups, pile-it-on collaborations. Invention meant the right team led by Jobs, with Jobs as the final arbiter. Taste, of all things, was always involved. Steve Jobs was known as the quiet neighbor on a quiet tree-lined street in Palo Alto, not far from the Stanford University campus. His signature dress -- black turtleneck, jeans, running shoes -- was as familiar there as it was at the office or onstage, as a rapt world awaited his latest invention. His understatement in life and work, coupled with an unrelenting drive for excellence and good taste, bespoke the man as well as his regime-shifting technologies that seem to show up someplace new every day. In this modern world of increasing technical complexity and dependency, it was good knowing Steve Jobs was around. His legacies -- yet to be fully measured or known -- may well set a good path to follow in the years to come. So many lives will continue to be affected by them.

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