When Steve Jobs died the other day it affected me in an odd way. I felt sort of empty. I felt like something was suddenly missing. I have not felt this way about someone I have not met for a long time. I remember when john Candy died, and Pierre Trudeau, and Rocket Richard. I did not know any of them either of course (though I did shake Trudeau's hand when I was 12 while on a class trip to Ottawa, alas that is another story).
To be sure, this was nothing like losing my Dad to cancer, or my friend Duncan to the same disease. Those two guys influenced me probably more than any two men in my life. (When I don't know how to solve a problem at work I think 'WWDD' meaning What Would Dad/Duncan Do? Oddly, the solutions are almost always the same...)
No this was different. Why did I care so much about a billionaire? I mean, I understand Trudeau, hell, when I was a kid, until I was 19, he was the Prime Minister, ok except for that brief Joe Clark thing.... So, he affected me every day, I lived in Trudeau's Canada. The Rocket, well, I am a Habs fan, and we are big into tradition and history we Habs fans, so, I guess that made sense. I had heard the stories, I had seen grainy film etc. But Jobs, I mean why? He was, by some accounts, a ruthless and arrogant businessman. Then again, Trudeau was a ruthless politician, and often seen as arrogant. The Rocket was ruthless on the ice, and also often seen as arrogant. I remember when Gretzky came in the league, and the Rocket was asked how he would do in the 50s. His reply was something along the lines of 'He would win the scoring title, if he was on my line'.
Was this arrogance though? Trudeau had an IQ of 180. The Rocket was, up until the arrival of Lemieux and Grezky, the greatest goal scorer ever. They KNEW they were great. Did everything they did in their work turn out? No. The National Energy plan was a disaster politically for Trudeau. Maurice Richard was not the easiest teammate to have.
Jobs was a visionary. He guessed what we would like, before we knew we would like it. He saved Apple when he returned. He did this by doing stuff other people had done before (mp3 players, phones etc) better than they had. He was bold enough to use UNIX as basis of OS X. He, by all accounts, did not use focus groups. He somehow just knew. Oh he had his fuckups. The iPod HiFi, the Cube, Mobile Me (oddly, I sort of like Mobile Me...)
However, he did not let his screwups get in the way. He moved on. He came across, to me, as a genius, but as a flawed one. Not some fatal flaw, just flawed like all of us. As an academic I have known/know many people with the sort of drive, vision and flaws that Jobs had. Maybe that is why he resonated with me. He also made geek cool.
Strangely, I hated Macs until OS X. I had no interest in them, when I used them they bothered me, it all seemed clunky. OS X changed that. I did not have an mp3 player until the iPod came out. The first smartphone I bought was an iPhone 3Gs. His sense of what worked usually worked for me. Plus, it is way easy to zoom in on a Mac, and that helps me a lot what with the blind thing and all.
As he said in his famous Stanford address: 'stay hungry, stay foolish'. Maybe that is where Candy fits in....