One of the headlines that I read online today in regard to the sad passing of Steve Jobs was that he "invented our modern world." That might seem like typical journalistic hyperbole and yet, if you think about it, there's more than a grain of truth there. The world is a very different place because Steve Jobs lived among us. He packed a lot of innovation into his short 56 years.
When I came into the world, the reigning "world genius" was still Albert Einstein. He was nearing the end of his stay on this planet, but he was still very much with us. In his lifetime, his theories and insights had transformed our world. Things could never go back to the way they were before Einstein. He changed the world forever and he was gifted with a long life to see the results wrought by some of his accomplishments.
When I think about other "world geniuses" that have been present on Earth during my lifetime, two names spring readily to mind: Jim Henson and Steve Jobs.
Jim Henson had a vision of how to talk to and educate small children. He came up with the idea of communicating with them through his non-threatening Muppets. Muppets did the kinds of things that kids did - or wanted to do. Kids could easily relate to them and would take in the information relayed through the Muppets and remember it. I was extremely fortunate to have my children after Henson had invented his Muppets and after they moved to Sesame Street and became an everyday feature of the lives of millions of children, including mine. A whole generation of children grew up, thanks to Henson, with a precocious understanding of letters, numbers, what synonyms and antonyms are, and perhaps most importantly, knowing that "it's not easy being green." Jim Henson may not have been recognized as a Civil Rights pioneer, but he did as much as anyone to prepare a generation of kids to be more accepting of people who might look different from them. He changed our world and he left it much too young.
The genius of Steve Jobs was not so much in inventing new products but in taking other people's ideas and seeing how they could made to work better. As well as CEO, he filled the role at Apple of super-consumer. He could look at a product and see what was wrong with it, what would annoy people about it, and what it would take to make it a more "user-friendly" product. Steve Jobs did not invent the computer, but before he came along they were clunky affairs that only a truly dedicated geek could love. Jobs made them sleek and fast and intuitive and fun to operate. He made them a necessary part of our everyday lives. Today, even if you operate a PC rather than an Apple, you are still benefiting from Jobs' genius. The other computer companies readily adopted and adapted his methods as their own, making their products ever smaller, lighter, easier to handle and ever more user-friendly.
Of course, the personal computer was the starting point of Jobs' innovations, but then came the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, all products that we perhaps didn't know we wanted, but we now cannot imagine the world without them. Yes, Steve Jobs helped invent our modern world. He changed our world forever and he left us much too soon.