Wednesday, October 12, 2011

iDeath and eLife: What Steve Jobs Discovered and Missed

Steve Jobs, as Rick Warren rightly tweeted was " the Thomas Edison" of his generation. Steve Jobs changed the way we look at the world just as Edison. Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ friend and colleague from the very beginning of his career remarked in his "tearful” interview with Associated Press that, "We lost something that we will never get back!" Steve Jobs was so unique! Everyone shared that sense of loss but will still remember Steve Jobs for the way he changed the world.

Like thousands of others, Apple computers made my life different. The first work I ever did on a computer was on an old IBM PC way back in 1986-1988 during my student days in Bangalore. It had no hard disk, it used two 5" floppy disk drives. One of the floppy disks had the OS and the word processing program. The other was for saving the documents to. The computer had no memory of any sort, we had to enter the time and date at start up. We did not know what we were going to get. I mean, the screen and the printout did not match exactly. If you forgot to close the code for bold font (which was invisible on the screen) then the entire document from that point will be in bold!

However, two years later, I was introduced to an Apple Macintosh Classic computer with a black and white screen. It had a mouse, what I saw on the screen was I what I got in the printout (WYSWYG). It could type Hebrew and Greek, the two languages that I had to use besides English. It was a great leap for me! Then a few months later, I had my own Apple-- A Macintosh LC with color monitor! Nineteen years now, I still keep it; it is still functional though I don't use it! I  had to part my ways with Apple. I could not travel with Apple any further as my iBook crashed a few years back. I changed my loyalties to Linux run on PCs. Apples turned out to be expensive. Moreover it was difficult to keep pace with the speed at which they updated the hardware and the software-- every six months something new rolled out of Steve Jobs mind to the market. However, I still am an Apple fan and hold no hatred for iPhones or iPads!

The world of technology and business hail him for his inventions; iPhone, iPad, iCloud and all that preceded these. However, I think his greatest achievement was not an invention but a discovery that he made. I would like to call it iDeath!

He disclosed that discovery when he went public after being diagnosed for pancreatic cancer in 2005. That is his discovery of the significance of death for him. He said, "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." 

However, even before that, from the very beginning of his career he had death in view. Steve Wozniak who knew him from the very beginning of his life as a computer genius and business man made another revelation about Jobs in his interview with the Associated Press. He said that Jobs told him around the time he left Apple in 1985 that he had a feeling he would die before the age of 40. Because of that, "a lot of his life was focused on trying to get things done quickly," Wozniak said.

This discovery of the significance of death for a human being defined Jobs’ life-style and his impatience for achievements. Former colleagues remember him being rude and impatient. He fired people if their answer did not satisfy him. He had no time to waste, he was on a rush. The secret seems to be that he always saw death before him, he had the end in view; he had to achieve all that he could before he reached that point.

I would like to use the metaphor of a ship on collision course to understand Steve Jobs view of life and death. He seems to have imagined that his ship will not survive the collision and will sink deep down never to raise again. Seeing the immanent death (though he lived longer than he thought he will) he was on a hurry. He was bent on achieving as much as he can before the collision happens. That is what made him brash and impatient. That sense of urgency is the secret of his achievements as well.

However, that is not the only perspective on life and death that is possible. Saint Paul saw death every day in his life. He lived a very dangerous life which he described as "we die every day" (1 Cor 15:31). Death was an every day possibility for him. He had survived shipwrecks, snake bites, robbery attempts, had fought with animals in the arena. He knew that he may drop dead any time! Though death was a daily reality for him, his view on death was very different from that of Steve Jobs.

If he saw his life as a ship, he would have seen death as a thick fog through which his ship has to pass through and not as an ice-berg that it would crash on to.While Steve Jobs could not see the other side of death, Saint Paul could see through the fog the other side of life beyond the grave.

The other side of the grave (the fog) as the Bible presents it is beautiful and radically different from one the one that we have now. The Bible describes it as a life where the perishable is turned into imperishable, and the mortal turned in to immortal. It is a life without limit: no limit on its time and no cap on its quality. That limitless length and quality is what qualifies it to be described as "Eternal Life" or eLife borrowing Steve Job’s language! (One of his flops was the eMac!).

This eLife is not a life of passivity; spent waiting for the other life. It has the same urgency that Steve Jobs maintained but for two different reasons. The first reason is that the passing through the fog is to a place from where there is no return. Whatever to be achieved in this world has to be achieved before the ship enters the fog. The second reason is that we can only predict the possibility of the fog but can’t predict how far we are from it. One day our ships will meet the fog, but none knows when. That demands that every moment has to be redeemed. There is urgency that fuels our life to achieve.

Steve Jobs has been a great achiever. His achievement was prompted by the certainty of an immanent death from which he cannot escape. That great discovery of death made him rush and gained a place with the greatest minds of our times. But he could have had the same urgency and achievements that follow from that sense of urgency with another view of life and death as well. He could have held a view which would have given him hope not only in this world but also in the world to come. It seems that he missed that perspective. His greatest achievement is the discovery of iDeath on which he could not put any controls. He missed eLife-- eternal life that Jesus offers to all who put their trust in him. If Steve Jobs had read that Book which talks about it, he would have discovered eLife.

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