Well, Steve Jobs is dead. Goodbye, Steve, and sleep well.
Something very personal first. Sudhirda was taken from me by the same disease, cancer of the pancreas. Money and fame gave Steve a few years’ respite, but not very long. No matter how cruel it might sound (and I say this only because Sudhirda mattered to me infinitely more than Steve did), I find it comforting to think that money and fame can take you only so far. I only wish, as one human being for another, that he had got the Biblical three score years and ten.
There is a global outpouring of ‘grief’ in progress right now, of course, and it is only to be expected. Most of these mourners are actually dimly conscious that when they assure the spirit of Steve that they will always remember and admire him, they actually mean that he will be entirely forgotten in, at most, ten years’ time. And that’s quite fitting, too, I think, because (and again I don’t care how unfashionable this sounds), the finest thing he did in his lifetime was composing that Stanford University 2005 commencement speech. As for all the other ‘world-changing’ achievements, he was just one of those techies with sharp marketing skills who got lucky (it only happens in the USA, too!) – anybody who really knows anything about the history of scientific invention and innovation (I wonder how many engineers today belong to that category) will concur wholeheartedly. Glorifying him out of all proportion is actually insulting lots of equally talented innovators who never made the headlines simply because they didn’t make much money; some among them actually helped Steve himself a great deal from behind the shadows. And basically he was nothing more than a toymaker (what’s the iPad more than a toy? And how important is it in our lives if weighed beside, say, electricity or chloroform? One might as well say that the men who designed Barbie and the zip fastener and the first aerated cold drink changed the world forever!). Gandhi was born this month, and this country finds it more cool to mourn Jobs right now than him, regardless of the fact that someone of the stature of Albert Einstein (who, I think, will be remembered a trifle longer than Jobs) had said at the time of his death that ‘generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth’. The father of an old boy of mine, a doctor, noticing the ‘mourning’ on Facebook, exclaimed this morning ‘A toymaker is more important than Gandhi now? The world has progressed a great deal indeed since we were of your age’.
Someone has saluted Steve Jobs on Facebook with ‘We are what we are because of you’. I wonder whether or not that would have made Steve squirm with embarrassment, despite his billions. I know for a fact that some great ‘successes’ are acutely ashamed of their success. Michael Jackson hated listening to pop music, and Andrew Grove, maverick founder CEO of Intel Corp, once remarked about what the internet was doing to humanity: ‘We are drowning in a vast ocean of trivia’. As for Steve’s success, the Dalai Lama would have said with a gentle deprecating smile that he was only one of those who created a world where ‘we have wonderful things to communicate with, and nothing to communicate’ (most sms-es are forwarded jokes and similar crap, aren’t they?). If that makes a ‘great man’, I can do without greatness. I shall think Solon and the Buddha and Michelangelo and Tagore and men of their ilk when I talk about vision and greatness. Let history judge. Very ordinary people can look like giants if we ourselves have become pygmies…