I wasn’t going to buy Steve Job’s biography. Sure, I was interested, but it had been hyped a lot and I tend to regard Apple a bit warily. I don’t own any Apple tech from during Job’s tenure. I don’t agree with the way Apple want to control the experience (I didn’t when Microsoft tried it, either). But the biography Steve Jobs is also, to a large extent, the history of Apple Computer and of the home computer industry. And that sort of thing is something I like reading about.
Of course, I’ve read biographys before. They are usually interesting life stories (and often interesting narratives in their own right) and can be instructive to hold up to your own life. And then a relative gave a copy to me for Christmas. This was as unexpected and exciting.
Those of you who know me on GoodReads will know I have begun reading it. Isaacson is deft at what he does. Steve is not unique, but he is highly individual. He always had a very strong internal drive and harnessed it to various purposes. Isaacson describes this as “very strong willed” and this is apparant in how he treats his parents and others around him. I know from other works that a lot of the visible pioneers of early home computers were also strong willed. So this is not surprising to see. Isaacson also shows, and this is more subtle, that Jobs may well have been fully aware of his fabled “Reality Distortion Field”. One interesting example of this was his strong belief that if he could do something, then someone else could, too.
We need more of that. I need more of that. One way or another, we all grow up looking up to other people. Some literature calls this hero-worship. As infants we look up to our parents or carers to fulfill that role. As we get older, we see hero figures in the world around us, and then in the media we consume. Professional athletes are often held up by the mass-media as hero figures, sometimes even by that exact name. There is a whole swathe of fiction devoted to heroism, much of it drawing on real history, such as viking raiders, or fabled samurai. Often heros are a lot closer to home and are rarely graced with that title. A teacher who encouraged a particular skill and the love for using it. An older relative who first taught us those skills. A friend who saw the potential and said something at the exact right time to make us realize it.
Hero figures are not perfect, though. Some people learn that at great cost when, say, a favourite golfer turns out to have a string of mistresses on the side. We should use that as a lesson in not judging our own failures too hard. When that lesson fails, a hero becomes a demon.
Steve Jobs is a hero to many people in many different ways, just as he is a demon to many others. I am sure Isaacson has waiting for me stories about both sides of this. He undoubtedly led his company to do extraordinary things, and his fabled “reality distortion field” was an important tool to do that. But in a lot of ways he was just human, too. I’m sure he would put his trousers on one leg at a time just like you and I.
Where are your heros? And consider the small ones, too. You may discover someone else looking up to you.