Steve Jobs: A man who changed our times

The death of Steve Jobs reminds us of the stark times we live in. As the world wept, shedding genuine tears for a change, at the passing away of one of history’s most remarkable inventor-entrepreneurs, it seemed that we had entered an era of the end of the role model. The paragons that remain are mostly stock exchange manipulators, greedy bankers, brazen politicians and bearded extremists who promise the return of paradise on earth.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, had reminded the world that there is something beyond money, power and lust worth striving for. He had inspired a generation to reach for the starry heights of accomplishment. More than that, he reminded the world of the gift of life, its limited span and the importance of the personal dream.
In his now historic 2005 Stanford University Commencement speech, Jobs had revealed the savant in himself by declaring that “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” In that speech, he had briefly described his fairy tale life, starting with how he had been put up for adoption by his biological mother, who was then “a young, unwed college graduate student”. He had been raised by two very loving working class parents, who had virtually put all their life savings to put their adopted son through college.
Jobs had dropped out of college and gone on to found Apple Inc. along with two friends. Apple and Jobs had hit big time in 1984 with the introduction of the Macintosh, the first successful personal computer that had a graphical user interface which could be manipulated by a mouse.
Steve Jobs was revered not for being one of the world’s most successful businessmen but for his seminal inventions, like the Mac and the iPad; his life story, worldview and later his terminal cancer had further elevated him to a cult figure.
For Steve Jobs making money was not the primary aim; it was doing things differently and creating products that no one had imagined could exist. He liked to quote ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who is supposed to have said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Indian businessmen would be inspired by Steve Jobs’ wealth but not his ideals or lifestyle. Indian tycoons are not associated with any path-breaking inventions but by their often ostentatious lifestyles, lavish weddings for children and atrociously expensive homes.
Steve Jobs had no time or inclinations to construct such Towers of Babel; till the very end he continued to live in an ordinary middle class neighbourhood, the kind where kids turn up for trick or treat. When it was known he was dying, Apple executives had to inform the local police to ensure that his open house did not get mobbed.
Some of Jobs’ beliefs probably stemmed from his early interest in Hinduism and Buddhism. As a youth he had travelled to India to find spiritual inspiration but had returned disturbed by its pretensions of holiness and the horrible way people treated each other and their surroundings. He had concluded that “maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba put together.”
Neem Karoli Baba was the guru Jobs was seeking, who died before Jobs could meet him. But Jobs did have an encounter with the Dharma he would never forget. While somewhere in the Himalayas, he had chanced upon a sadhu, who, much taken up by Jobs, dunked his head under water and tonsured him. It was a curious experience for Jobs but the sadhu of that encounter never became what Kanatos was to Alexander the Great.
If anything really inspired him it was the Beatles. In a famous interview to the popular TV programme 60 Minutes, he said that his business model was the Beatles: “They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts.” Ideas like this helped him build hugely successful corporate structures: Apple (named after Apple Records of Beatles’ fame), NeXT Computer and Pixar, the animation studio.
Nevertheless, there was always an other-worldly side to Steve Jobs; he lived a simple, almost mythical life and became a veritable carpenter in the world of hi-technology. It is reported that he had converted to Buddhism during his India visit and was a vegetarian who ate fish but no meat. His wedding was consecrated by a Zen Buddhist monk.
People all over the world, especially the young, liked what they saw in Steve Jobs. Here was a college dropout, a videogame freak and one time hippie who had no problems about admitting he had tripped on acid. New York Times reporter John Markoff, in his 2005 book What the Doormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, quoted Jobs as saying, “Doing LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.”
Steve Jobs stood out in a world were there seemed to be more to revile than extol. The images in the headlines were of politicians with apparent priapism, state leaders splurging borrowed money, businessmen raking in super profits and corporate executives with obscene salaries. Successful artistes, entertainers, filmstars and sportspersons were objects of adulation but rarely inspirational.
Jobs, in contrast, had both charisma and the capacity to inspire, even though he was by no means a saint or a typical nice guy. Many had complained of his wild temperament and ruthlessness. He had even tried to disown his first daughter born out of a liaison with painter Chrisann Brennan.
Steve Jobs also did not believe in charity and is said to have personally shut down all corporate philanthropy programmes in Apple.
He was a huge egoist who believed that his inventions were his real gifts to the world. And perhaps he was right. Mankind will never be the same now that it has the PC, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and finally a legend to fit all of that.

The writer is an independent security and political risk consultant

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