Steve Jobs

7th October 2011 - Madrid

Yesterday I read about the death of Steve Jobs right after waking up, and I thought about why it saddened me besides the fact that someone remarkable was gone. It got me thinking of two things, the moving speech that he gave at Stanford, and the fact that from my perspective this person was bringing us “the future” closer.

One thing that I understand but which disappoints me is that our knowledge and technology is not so much limited by what we can get through our ingenuity but by economic constrains. We tend to advance towards short-time profits, we are not focused on racking our brains to solve every kind of problem, instead we go forward in some topics which receive resources for one reason or another. We have some independent research and we have different companies who develop and improve mostly what they need to compete. It’s a great thing that the computer industry provides tools to scientists which would’ve been completely unaffordable, but knowing that research will get you longer lasting batteries faster than curing the disease that will kill you it’s a little annoying.

To make things worse, enterprises don’t have to do better products than the others to be successful. A company can try to do something innovative but something crappy with a lower price or a stronger marketing campaign is equally valid. I admire google for expanding mankind’s intelligence (nothing less :) and i’m furious with Telefonica for giving a damn about improving infrastructures (for example at my neighborhood) while reporting the highest profits of the country and attempting to charge the user for every action he makes on the Internet. I can not blame companies if they don’t hurry to make innovative products because that’s not their goal, but it’s sad to know that they have the power to do it.

… And then it’s when the ipod appeared…

I may have been spoiled with futuristic objects from books and movies, but I see the computers we have and i feel like someone had taken me to the past. We’ve not only been inspired, we’ve seen realistic renderings in a thousand videos and somehow I feel that i’m just waiting for the future to finally come. It seems almost a matter of time. I’m a few years I’ve seen the first computer change from being regarded as a strange typewriter to something as fundamental as electricity. I’ve seen the mass adoption of mobile phones and the rise of Internet, and in all this time it is like if it was written somewhere “this is just the beginning”

We are waiting for our computers to stop being noisy overheated boxes of wires to ubiquitous instantaneous machines. We want every surface turned into a screen, we want perfect videoconferences, we want augmented reality, we want to be seamless connected everywhere, we want personal robots, solid virtual reality, affordable spaceships, we want our organs cloned, our genome understood and used to cure us, we want nanotechnology, powerful quantum computers and cold fusion. We want everything that we believe to be achievable through ingenuity. And we would like to have it soon.

**… And then a friend show me his iphone… **

And I didn’t care about the phone part at all. It was a terminal. A futuristic portable terminal the way we had imagined it. I didn’t think “ah, that’s great”, i thought “finally!”. Phones had had already applications, small screen slow awkward applications prone to go accidentally online and which were as usable as browsing the Internet by sending sms’s. For years every sloppy improvement added to my phone made me wish that they could just keep it as it was. What i wanted was a piece of Internet in a rectangular format. I wanted a responsive machine in an simplified interface given the size, and they just aced it. Four years later, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop admitted that even then they didn’t have a product close to their experience. For me it was a huge step towards being always connected, to the fact I could have a world of information in my hands.

… And then three years later rumour had it that they were going to present a tablet…

I was working with a couple of friends waiting for something “revolutionary” to be broadcasted. By that time steve jobs had already turned into some sort of legendary inventor, and we had the kind of the excitement that you had in your stomach when a movie you’ve been waiting/anticipating for years is about to start. Technology makes progress steadily and someday your processor is 4 times better, but this man was on stage, directing our expectations like a magician and promising to deliver something exciting that we would soon have in our daily lives.

He went out and presented the ipad we had the feeling as if we were watching a mobile phone or a laptop for the first time.

Lost of people said that it would be useless, that they wanted a light laptop and not a large iphone. They mocked the idea and said that other companies had tried and failed because the market didn’t like it. I was surprised for the avalanche of critics. Personally, I wished that it succeeded to proof that people wanted to bring computers to other parts of their lives. It was another step towards to screen tables, walls, mirrors, glasses.. anything we could imagine, to make the way we interact with computers more close to the way humans would naturally interact with objects. A tablet, for it’s size and simplified controls was ideal for a huge new range of scenarios, and they were brave enough to prove it.

From that moment we were won over. Not that apple was perfect. Apple is a brilliant company that wants our money and to have us tied, which annoys their own developers many times and which for some reason believes that moving files with cut&paste is a bad day (it is not! change it dammit!)

But we are willing to go through many things if that’s what it takes to enjoy this little pieces of “future”. I command control over your music library in exchange for the ipod. I will decide which apps are worthy on the iphone and ipad. I’ve just developed the robot EVA from WALLE while my competitors have talking toasters, but she will carry your wallet from this day on. Apple can set some unnerving conditions because their products are worth it.

This is the first of the two reasons that will make me miss Steve Jobs. The second is this video.I don’t know how Steve Jobs was in person, but I believe that he meant every word he said:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs managed to get everyone excited with his personality and the continuous innovations of his company. He presented products so appealing that their legion of fans almost fight to advertise them themselves, and I don’t know if we’ll see any other person capable of creating this enthusiasm for technology. I believe that he contributed to take us closer to a future full of possibilities. He was completely devoted to doing what he loved and he inspired us all. We we’ll miss him.