The Associated Press is reporting that Steve Jobs has died. A tragic passing, much too young, of a great innovator and a great American.
Jobs passed after suffering with pancreatic cancer for many years. He seems (we don't know for sure) to have achieved a remission, but ultimately succumbed. That is, sadly, very typical of many cancers once they reach a certain stage.
I think there are a few lessons in the life and passing of Mr. Jobs. First, while we do not need to proceed in a spirit of elitism -- an outlook that idealizes and sometimes makes a fetish of the successful -- we do need elites. Steve Jobs was part of an elite. He designed products not through focus groups, but by envisioning the future and seducing the public with that vision.
Second, looking back on Jobs' career at Apple, we see that the presence of vicious criticism and hatred for something tells you next to nothing about its true worth. Every sector-changing product Apple made was endless ridiculed in articles and on blogs and in comment threads that sometimes sounded strangely like the climate wars -- yet we all know how they turned out. The presence of critics does not necessarily indicate a failure on the part of the one criticized, pace Judith Curry. As the poet said, haters gonna hate.
Finally, and I mean no disrespect in pointing this out, we ought to attend to the fact that this brilliant man, at the heart of a technological empire, with all the money and access to top scientists and doctors he could ever need, was taken from us in the prime of his life -- by cancer. Which is to say, by biology. And with years of trying the best doctors in the world could not stop it. So as we remember the great Steve Jobs and the promise of technology which he did so much to advance, we should also remember that science and technology have not liberated us from dependance on nature. We are still biological creatures, with biological needs, and our understanding of the marvelous machines of life is still primitive; our ability to control it, even less so. A cautious respect for our natural environment is in order.
The snow dissolved no more is seen,
The fields, and woods, behold, are green.
The changing year renews the plain,
The rivers know their banks again,
The spritely nymph and naked Grace
The mazy dance together trace.
The changing year’s successive plan
Proclaims mortality to man.
Rough winter’s blasts to spring give way,
Spring yields to summer’s sovereign ray,
Then summer sinks in autumn’s reign,
And winter chills the world again.
Her losses soon the moon supplies,
But wretched man, when once he lies
Where Priam and his sons are laid,
Is naught but ashes and a shade.
Who knows if Jove, who counts our score,
Will toss us in a morning more?
What with your friend you nobly share
At least you rescue from your heir.
Not you, Torquatasf, boast of Rome,
When Minos once has fixed your doom,
Or eloquence, or splendid birth,
Or virtue shall replace on earth.
Hippolytus unjustly slain
Diana calls to life in vain,
Nor can the might of Theseus rend
The chains of hell that hold his friend.