Steve Jobs, Broker of Change

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I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the black turtleneck sweater, blue jeans, wire-rimmed glasses, and stubble beard.

I’m probably least qualified to weigh in on the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who passed away in early October.  I don’t own an iPhone or an iPad.  I still buy compact disks for my music.  And this column is being written on a PC.

But I do agree with many who are beginning to assess Jobs’ legacy by putting him in the same league as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. 

I could add to that list of Americans who have contributed to the fabric of our commercial existence the likes of Kodak founder George Eastman, and the inventor of the television Philo T. Farnsworth.

For the sake of argument, I concede that none of these inventors brought their ideas forth as pure individual achievements.  All worked with people, took ideas established by others, and with the possible exception of Farnsworth, moved their thoughts forward with the help of many individuals.  None acted alone.

Edison gave us the light bulb and the phonograph.  Ford gave us the assembly line production of the automobile.  Eastman put photography into the hands of ordinary people. 

Farnsworth gave us the television, but fought bitterly with corporate moguls who tried to marginalize his contributions.

That takes me back to Jobs.  He didn’t invent the computer, but he and others at Apple Computer did help develop the idea that a computer could be in every home. 

The company revolutionized the music distribution business with the notion that the consumer could buy just the one song they wanted from an album of ten to twenty cuts. 

Apple dropped the word computer from its’ name and gave us the iPhone which in turn spun several established inventions in a new direction. 

Even the personal computer, the original idea that launched Jobs and Apple over thirty years ago, was transformed into the light-weight, but heavily technologically driven iPad.

I remember NBC’s David Brinkley speaking about the legacy of Elvis Presley at the time of the King of rock and roll’s death in the 1970’s.  “Whether you liked him or not, he changed things.  He changed the way, then (1950’s) teenage Americans thought about music, clothes, and life.”

This thought can be applied to some extent on the legacy of Steve Jobs.  He did a lot thinking for us as he brokered ideas and added a few of his own to give the world products they never really knew they wanted or needed. 

He may not have been the most compassionate boss.  Some have questioned his commitment to corporate responsibility and community service.  Several quotes attributed to him are now being discovered as not having been original, but rather quotes he may have borrowed from others without attribution. 

But no one will question that he was a brilliant man with a commitment to helping his customers discover they needed something they previously never realized they needed.

He changed things.    From the scrapping of traditional business attire at product announcements, to the way all of us think about technology, Steve Jobs changed a lot of things.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.