Steve Jobs died, and the world mourned. The odd thing about it was, people spoke as if they knew him personally, as if his death affected them in a deep way, as though they had lost a close friend whom they had known for many years. They even cried.
In a way, I suppose it’s the same as any other celebrity death – for example, Princess Diana’s, through whom people lived their lives vicariously and therefore in a sense were profoundly affected when she died, even though they had probably never even met her personally.
But this was different. My friends and acquaintances on Facebook wrote to thank him for changing their lives, making their lives better. The local paper reported one man saying “You have changed the world. You have changed my life.” His sentiments were echoed by many others in various forms.
I’m a fan of Apple products as well. They are user-friendly, visually appealing and (more importantly) seriously cool. I am writing on a MacBook Pro. Jobs was undoubtedly a genius and also the “visionary” that many, including Barak Obama, have tagged him as, at least in terms of technological innovation.
But what, exactly, is it that makes Apple products so appealing, and also that makes us respond with such emotion to his death, as if he himself had been an integral part of our lives?
I was interested to read that Jobs was adopted at birth, which means that from the very beginning of his life he never had the normal stability or security that a child gets from its mother. But if you look at the products that Jobs created, they meet exactly this need for stability and security.
Apple products are very visual, in a sense creating a microcosm of the outside world. As a very simple example, the Desktop actually has pictures of folders and notes that you can move around as if it were a real desk. Everything in this “world” is easily controllable and able to be ordered just as we like. And most importantly, all interactions with other people are conducted from a very safe environment in which you cannot be physically affected or really emotionally touched by any relationship that occurs, if even they can really be termed relationships.
Many of our social interactions now are conducted through iPhones or Apps. Even when we see each other face-to-face, we can refer to things that have happened on Facebook or through messaging which provides us with an alternative reality to the sometimes awkward or unpredictable personal interactions. We identify ourselves by what is on our iPods and we walk through the streets or ride the MTR in our little iPhone/iPad/iPod bubbles. It is such an appealing world that it’s hard to get ourselves out of it. (Yes, I still want an iPhone).
Not surprisingly, Jobs was very protective of his private life, as well as perfectionistic and “famously dissatisfied” in his work life, according to biographer Harry McCracken. He was also some sort of Buddhist. Perhaps in fact with his products he was looking for the peace and order that he never had.
Maybe this is why there was such an outpouring of emotion, and such a sense of loss and unsettledness, as if the earth were shifting beneath our feet when he died. We’re not sure if there will be another wave of products to maintain this illusory world of which we are nearly all of us members.