Steve Jobs died today. I did not know the man, but I feel a loss. For Steve Jobs changed many aspects of my life. Indeed, he changed the lives of anyone reading these words.
If you are at all technically-minded, you probably can think of at least one way that the foregoing statement is true. But Jobs changed our lives--our mundane, everyday lives--in more and different ways than you may think. Maybe more than anyone else during his lifetime.
Of course, Steve Jobs' technical achievements are legendary. He was one of the designers and prime motivating forces behind the first commercially successful microcomputer (the Apple II). He was THE prime motivating force behind the commercialization of the graphical interface (Lisa/Mac) and the now-ubiquitous computer mouse. Jobs revolutionized the portable music player industry with the iPod and its wonderfully simple interface. He revolutionized the smartphone market with the introduction of the iPhone, revolutionized the laptop market with the introduction of the all solid-state Macbook Air, and in his final years on Earth, he revolutionized--some say created--the tablet market with the introduction of the iPad.
Jobs' truly big tech accomplishments all have two things in common: they embody Jobs' absolute insistence that the technology be easy to use, and they are almost universally admired as being somehow "cool." Jobs possessed a preternatural feel for what Americans would think was "cool."
Even more revolutionary was Jobs' effect on entertainment. He founded Pixar, which went on to revolutionize the animated film industry. Then Jobs revolutionized the entire music industry--both legitimate and underground--with the creation of iTunes and its vast library of cheap, individually-downloadable songs. iTunes not only made piracy irrelevant, it killed the CD. iTunes' effect on the film and TV markets is not as far along, but will ultimately be just as profound. If Jobs didn't start the digital entertainment age, he has certainly shaped it.
Then again, the same can be said of pretty much each of Jobs' accomplishments. He didn't think of the idea first, but somehow, his vision of the idea is the one that stuck, the one that everyone else either adopted or copied.
And there is no better example of this than Jobs' effect on mens' fashion. Yes, fashion.
Many of you may not be old enough to remember, but before Steve Jobs came along, male white collar workers from businessmen to teachers to attorneys used to wear a suit and tie to work. Every day. And it had been like that since, oh, before the Civil War.
Steve Jobs bucked that tradition. He wore jeans and a turtleneck to work, and that casual style became the signature feature of Apple's corporate culture, differentiating it from then-arch-rival IBM, where they not only wore suit-and-tie, but the shirts had to be white and buttoned-down. And as Jobs became famous and Apple became iconic, his casual style started to spread throughout the culture, first as "casual Friday," then to the other days of the week, and finally beyond the office, to the current state of fashion, where every American male goes casual almost all the time.
Oh, wait. IBM employees still wear suit-and-tie to work every day...
For "the rest of us" men, though, the casual dress revolution was possibly Jobs' most revolutionary accomplishment of all. And while the casual revolution was an accomplishment Jobs probably never intended, and certainly was one from which he never profited, I believe that it sprang from the same place as the other Jobs-inspired revolutions. Steve wanted it to be easy; and for some unexplainable reason, other people decided that what Steve liked was "cool."
What does it all mean? Hell if I know. As best I can tell, Jobs was not a saint. He started no political movements, and unlike many iconic captains of industry, he funded no philanthropic foundations with which to atone for his sins during life. Jobs' accomplishments are not in the same moral league as, say, those of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela. But I know this: no other single person in my lifetime has been responsible for so much change to so many aspects of so many peoples' everyday lives. As a revolutionizer of the mundane, Steve Jobs stands supreme. May he rest easy, preferably in blue jeans, and may he remain forever cool.