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Steve Jobs: the Edison of His Time

Apple co-founder paved way for evangelization using new technology.

BY THOMAS L. McDONALD

| Posted 10/6/11 at 4:23 PM

 

If there ever were a person who demolished F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quip that “There are no second acts in American lives,” it was Steve Jobs. By the time he passed away yesterday from pancreatic cancer, he had seen, by any reasonable estimate, at least half a dozen acts in his 56 years.

Anyone would count themselves fortunate to change the world once in a lifetime, but by even a conservative accounting, Jobs changed it at least four times.

The first was with the founding of Apple Inc. in 1976. Steve Wozniak provided the technology, and Jobs provided the visionary and marketing genius that would kick off the entire home computer revolution with models like the early Apple, Apple IIs and Macintosh. Do you use a mouse to interact with a graphical user interface on your computer? You can thank Steve Jobs for that.

Ten years later, he bought a small computer-graphics division from George Lucas and renamed it Pixar, beginning the long development process that would culminate in Toy Story (1995). The first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story started a run of high-quality family films that changed the face of animation.

In 2001, he completely altered the music industry with the introduction of the iPod, followed two years later by the iTunes store. People could now store their entire music collections on a device no larger than a deck of cards. In turn, iTunes gave birth to the digital music industry, gradually replacing hard media with downloadable audio and video files. Without iTunes leading the way, it’s hard to image digital delivery becoming as ubiquitous as it has.

Finally, there was the iPhone. Apple didn’t create the first smartphone, much like Thomas Edison didn’t create the first incandescent light bulb. They just created the first one that mattered. It showed people a new way to interact with their world that went beyond “phone” to deliver something that let you handle email, read the news, listen to music, take pictures, run any number of high-powered programs, and play games like Angry Birds, all in the palm of your hand.

And this is just the Steve Jobs highlight reel. There were also models of desktop and portable computers (iMac and iBook), tablet computers (iPad) and operating systems (NeXT, OSX and iOS), not to mention revolutionary software that allowed people to do everything from edit their home movies to create professional-quality music, art or print publications.

Technology pioneered by Jobs has driven the entire Catholic new media revolution. (When Pope Benedict XVI launched the Vatican’s new website, he did it from an iPad.) Father Roderick Vonhögen, CEO of the Catholic new media company SQPN, is candid about his debt to Apple.

“Without Steve Jobs, I would have never been able to record and distribute the podcasts I made in the Vatican during the events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II and the conclave that lead to the election of Pope Benedict XVI. SQPN would probably have never existed.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were touched by Catholic podcasts or by Catholic iPhone/iPad apps,” Father Vonhögen continued. “I still receive mail on a weekly basis from people that returned to the Church, discovered confession and even their vocation to the priesthood or to religious life thanks to their iPhone, iPad or iPod.”


An ‘Unwanted’ Child

There’s another important angle to the life of Steve Jobs that should cause those who consider themselves “pro-choice” to pause. One of the mantras of the “choice” crowd is “We want every child to be a wanted child.”

But Steve Jobs wasn’t wanted. In 1954, a young college student named Joanne Schieble became pregnant by her boyfriend, Abdulfattah John Jandali. The couple would later marry and have another child, but in 1954 they were not ready for parenthood. If the pregnancy had occurred after 1973, the odds are quite high that it would have ended in abortion.

Instead, the child was adopted by a loving couple named Paul and Clara Jobs, who also adopted a daughter. When he was 32, Jobs finally met his birth sister, novelist Mona Simpson, and the two separated siblings formed a close and lasting bond.

Only a few days before Jobs’ death, in a homily for Respect Life Sunday, Deacon Greg Kandra spoke of this “unwanted” life, and the impact it had on all of us.

“It would not be overstating things to say that Steve Jobs is my generation’s Thomas Edison,” said Deacon Kandra, a blogger at Patheos.com. “As one observer put it, he knew what the world wanted before the world knew that it wanted it. If you have an iPhone or an iPad or an iPod, or anything remotely resembling them, you can thank Steve Jobs. If your world has been transformed by the ability to hear a symphony, send a letter, pay a bill, deposit a check, read a book and then buy theater tickets on something smaller than a cigarette case … you can thank Steve Jobs. And: You can thank Joanne Schieble.”

There have been 54 million abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973. We will never know how many of these lost children would be another Steve Jobs.

Jobs leaves behind four children of his own, and in a famous encounter with a secular journalist, admitted how parenthood changes your understanding of the world. It led Jobs to bar pornographic applications from his devices, saying “there’s a porn store for Android [smartphones]. You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn; your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go, so we’re not going to go there.”

Challenged to defend this, he observed that his critics might “care more about porn when [they] have kids,” adding that he believed Apple had “a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.”

Jobs kept his own religious beliefs, family life and even his political opinions largely to himself. Baptized and confirmed a Lutheran, he was a typical “spiritual seeker” of his generation. Inspired by the Beatles, he traveled to India to learn wisdom at the feet of a Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba. The guru was dead by the time he got there, and Jobs came back as a Buddhist. When he married Laurene Powell in 1991, it was in a Buddhist ceremony conducted by a Zen priest of the Soto sect. Although he was a contributor to Democratic candidates, he never spoke about political issues.

Searching for some analogy for the cultural loss, author and columnist James Lileks compared the death of Jobs to the death of Walt Disney, another visionary who changed the way we see and interact with the world, then died before his time. After cataloging the list of inventions he oversaw just in the past 12 years — from the iBook to the iPad — Lileks wrote: “It all seems inevitable in retrospect, but it wasn’t. It took a guy who could see several steps in the future. Beyond this to the thing beyond that.”

Father Vonhögen sees meaning in his death as well as his life.

“Since the diagnosis of his cancer, Steve Jobs lived in the face of death,” he said. “It changed him. He once said: ‘Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t interest me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.’ This ’memento mori’ explains his passion and his drive in everything he did. He welcomed death as something that gives value and meaning to every single day.”

Thomas L. McDonald frequently writes about technology and games for the Register.