Steve Jobs was a visionary, a marketer and a perfectionist, but he was also a quote machine. One of his better lines was this exhortation to Apple employees: "Make a dent in the universe."
Apple chief executive Steve Jobs died too soon Wednesday at age 56 — only months after his resignation as chief executive of the company he co-founded, but long after he, his colleagues, and those inspired and empowered by their work had pounded a series of dents into the universe.
For me, the first one felt was the arrival of the Mac. To sit down in front of a Mac Plus in high school (especially if you, hypothetically speaking, had an IBM PCjr at home) was to be awakened: Yes, this is how things could work. What you saw on the screen could be what came out of the printer, not a crude, 80-characters-per-line simulation.
But before I'd figured that out, Jobs had long since been kicked out of Apple.
He rebooted his career to found NeXT Computer — the World Wide Web was developed on a NeXT workstation — and help launch Pixar. Too few paid attention to either move at the time, not least since Apple prospered without him for several years.
By the time the rot had set in at Apple in the mid-1990s and the increasingly desperate firm bought NeXT in 1997, few industry observers, myself included, expected great things from the founder's return.
Jobs had other plans. He led one of the greatest corporate reinventions in American history, first rudely discarding ventures like the Newton and Apple's licensing of the Mac operating system to "Mac clone" manufacturers, then shipping the first of many versions of the iMac and the NeXT-based Mac OS X operating system.
The iPod turned Apple into a consumer electronics competitor, the iPhone reset and continues to redefine the smartphone, and the iPad took ownership of the tablet-computing market. Apple software such as iMovie let "mere mortals," as Jobs liked to say during his product keynotes, aspire to making their own Pixar-worthy productions.
The iTunes Store liberated music buyers from the recording industry's condescending attempts to control music downloads. The App Store freed mobile phone software from the dictates of the wireless carriers — although it then subjected them to Apple's largely unaccountable curation.
Even as Apple grew to be the most valuable company on the stock market, Jobs refused the role of corporate statesman. He wore the same jeans-plus-black-turtleneck outfit everywhere, he answered random emails in the middle of the night (once to me), and he took $1 a year in salary.
Jobs rarely spoke about what pushed him to do all this. But I was fortunate to be in the audience one time he did so at length, in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University (watch below). He spoke plainly but eloquently about what he'd learned at college after dropping out, how he'd recovered after getting fired from Apple, and how surviving a first round with pancreatic cancer reminded him not to let curiosity and creativity fade: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."
As I've grown older, left a job I once loved and lost family members, I've had reason to think again about that speech. This is one of those times.
The universe doesn't have quite the same shape that it once did. Thanks, Steve; you did good.
Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery