PERSONAL COMPUTERS, smartphones, and digital music players might well exist if Steve Jobs had never begun tinkering in his parents’ California garage in the 1970s, but they wouldn’t have developed so rapidly, so beautifully, and with so much thought to their users. Without Jobs, who died of cancer at 56 Wednesday, the technologies we love would lack almost everything we love about them.
Never has the passing of a Fortune 500 CEO been met with the fervor usually reserved for the deaths of revered heads of state or beloved celebrities. The outpouring of public grief — not just through tweets and Facebook posts, but also through flowers and candles left at Apple retail stores around the world — was startling. But then again, it wasn’t: Jobs helped make the advance of consumer technology the defining force of an era and, more than anyone else, changed the way we interact with each other in our day-to-day lives.
Although it was certainly bittersweet, the best proof of his transformative influence came late Wednesday night, as millions of people learned of his passing via the very devices — iPhones, iPads, and Apple personal computers — he had ushered into existence.
“A lot of times,’’ he once said, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.’’ This might have been arrogance, but it was also the truth. Jobs built Apple Inc. on the world’s eagerness to be dazzled — not by complicated feats of engineering but by elegance, simplicity, and usefulness. As the news of his death ricocheted around the Internet, and as his fans convened to mourn him, it only underscored his achievement in helping people get information and connect with one another at all times, wherever they are.