Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Here's to the crazy ones*

Shawn, drawn on a Mac …
For my 100th blog post, it's fitting to thank Steve Jobs, who made this blog possible.

Co-creator of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs died last week of pancreatic cancer.

(I know, I'm the opposite of news.)

The best descriptor for Jobs is "visionary." He dreamed and imagined what might be. Of course, many people do this, but Jobs was able to marshal minds and hearts, collecting other dreamers to turn his and their dreams into tools. Without which, it turns out, we cannot function. Or think we can't, anyway. 

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford states Jobs' place in the world even more strongly: He effected change around the world, from the way products look to the way people work.

Without such dreams made real, I would not be using an Apple iMac right now to get on the Internet and fashion this blog post. Or attaching this art, which I drew on a Mac.

I don't really admire Jobs for these manna, though. I'm a reluctant consumer of the products he caused to be; though I've owned several Mac computers, each one came to me only after it was absolutely necessary to part grievously with my money for it, after this computer broke irreparably or that one couldn't handle the ever-changing operating system requirements.

The first Apple I got was a clone (geez, remember those? Jobs, deposed early from the company he created, eventually returned and almost immediately killed the clones) from a freelance graphic designer who was moving on to an agency job. I got the computer because all I had was an electric typewriter, which was an infeasible tool for the graphic designer clients with whom I supplied copywriting. Back then I dragged the massive text file onto a floppy disk (one file per disk, usually), and drove it over to the client. Ah, so late 20th Century.

Since the graphic designers used Macs — a direct result of Jobs taking a calligraphy course after dropping out of college and resolving that his computers should accommodate multiple fonts — I got a Mac too, so all of our computers would speak the same language without hassles. When I started drawing on the Mac, I already had the technology that my clients could use. I have loved the Mac mostly because I didn't have to know how it works (that would have spelled the end of me); I just had to know that it works.

That's the limit of my Apple connection, though. One of my children has an iPhone (and wants the newest one, released the day before Steve Jobs died) and an iPad; another has a form of iPod; both have Mac Workbooks; my wife has another form of iPod which I don't think she uses. I have just the iMac on my desk in my office. I have iTunes — I upgrade the software dutifully, as the computer directs me, lest the computer retaliate on its own to impede my work — but I don't buy any music. I'm the same with major software, extremely disinclined to upgrade, and doing so only when clients finally can't read the files I'm exchanging.

I've evolved a disheveled frugality: Unless I absolutely need it, I go without. So many of these Apple products offer wonderful capabilities, many of which I hadn't imagined were necessary — my son has shown me! Look! — but so far I've managed to get through the day without them. I don't even know where my cell phone is most of the time. What a terrible candidate for Apple discipleship I am.

Though I love his chutzpah, this is a side of Steve Jobs I didn't much care for: Engineering hunger in us to replace one shiny cool bauble with another before the first has worn out, and to desire the next shiny bauble and its promises, long before it is even conceived.

Instead, I admire Jobs for that most maddeningly elegant of slogans his company once used: Think different. 

Elegant because that spirit is so inspiring. See it here, an unaired commercial featuring Jobs' own voice (the one broadcast used Richard Dreyfuss' voice). Maddening because it's so often a gift, not a practiced skill, to think different, to see what others do not, to see ahead, to see the way.

{Beautiful copywriting, by the way (see below …)}

Already among the world's most prominent different thinkers, Steve Jobs in death is now among the most revered.

He's at the top of a great heap of different thinkers, whom I encounter every day. People constantly amaze me for what they are able to do, the jobs they have that I didn't know even could be jobs, the places they traveled, the thoughts they think. So different, so far ahead of what I do and think. As the owner of a couple of books on the art of Disney animation, I am flummoxed to see the work of dozens of artists, churning out thousands and thousands of gorgeous concept drawings that no one but the films' art directors, and a few readers of these books, will ever see. They are fantastically beyond my ability to draw, and yet they're often postage-stamp sketches of color and amazing form and depth. Breathtakingly depressing.

When I heard of Jobs' death, my first thought popped out before I could choke it down: My God, he's only seven years older! What have I done?

You're right to say, "Yeah, what have you done?" Of course, you'd be just as right in saying, "Measure different."

I agonize like everyone else — in ways that vary as much as each of us are different — about what I've accomplished, what good influence I've made on anything, and what to do about that deficit now.

My son says I'm too hard on myself, which is my nature. When I measure different, I realize my children are becoming more and many splendored than I imagined — and I imagined much splendor. I'm married to my best friend, who saves me from myself every day. Steve Jobs is reported to have wanted a biography so that his children to learn about him, because Apple and Pixar and everything else had taken him away from his kids. What price global influence?

As far as the other stuff, I still have time, though I take heed the much-played commencement address Jobs delivered to Stanford University's graduating class of 2005. He told the graduates they don't have that much time.

"Death is very likely the single best invention of life," he said. "It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life," he continued. "Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
He admonished the graduates in Stewart Brand's words, from the Whole Earth Catalog: Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
*"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. (Think different.)" Apple commercial.

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