"Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?" - Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs has been described as a "visionary" so many times that's it's become a sort of cliche. In fact, the story of his life, his near-miraculous resurrection of Apple 11 years after he was fired from the company, his "just one more thing," and his battle against the cancer that would eventually claim him are so well known, that there's not really much we can add. (For an excellent and thorough obituary, see John Markoff's piece in today's New York Times.)
But take a look at these two video clips, produced roughly 25 years apart. The first is 1987's "Knowledge Navigator" clip, a piece produced at the behest of Apple to show how information technology (in the most literal sense of the term) might look in the not-too-distant future (in fact, the clip references an article that was "written five years ago" back "in 2006". You do the math).
The second is a recently released demo of the iPhone 4S's "Siri" feature.
Watching the clips back-to-back, the word "prescient" comes to mind.
Of course, this is not to suggest that Job's was some sort of infallible technological Nostradamus (Apple didn't develop Siri--it merely bought the company that did, after Siri made a huge splash at the 2010 South by Southwest conference), but the products and ideas fostered under Jobs' leadership read like the new millennium's Top-5 list of cultural game changers.
But Jobs was more than just Apple. Without his hard work, vision, and (let's face it) money, we may never have seen this:
Full disclosure: I'm a Mac and a PC. I'm typing this post on my MacBook Pro while a Dell desktop behind me syncs my Outlook account. I'm equally comfortable on both platforms, and I use them both almost every day in the course of my work, depending on what I'm doing. However, I'm anxiously awaiting getting my pre-order in for the iPhone 4S when it goes on sale tomorrow (which I will probably order through the Apple Store app on my current iPhone). I've got about 2,000 CDs worth of music stored on a iPod Classic connected to the USB port on my car's stereo. And I'll be clipping my iPod Shufle to the pocket of my shorts when I go to the gym this evening. I still have my first-generation iPod Photo that I bought to dump travel pics from a digital camera onto instead of a laptop.
So long, Mr. Jobs. You will be missed.
PS--Pancreatic cancer really, really sucks. Only about 4% of patients survive more than 5 years after diagnosis. And most of the people who get it don't have Steve Jobs's kind of money. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network funds patient care and scientific research into the disease through grants. Click here to donate.