Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thumbs up for Steve Jobs

Like most people, I was wowed to see impresario Steve Jobs on stage yesterday for Apple’s new iPad rollout. To say he’s skeletal is no exaggeration, but he was also animated, brilliant (as always), and purposeful. For a man who is surmised to be in the late stages of pancreatic cancer, he showed the world that a terminal illness is not a death sentence. I was moved to see someone so strickened put himself back in the unforgiving public eye. It was no surprise to see an immediate uptick in Apple share prices, as for the moment, at least, it appeared that Jobs was back on the job.

“We’ve been working on this product for a while and I didn’t want to miss today. Thank you for having me,” he said haltingly before he got down to business. That was the closest he came to saying anything personal.

The new iPad will probably make Apple additional billions of dollars. I don’t own one—yet—and am not an investor in Apple stock. What Jobs did on that stage, however, was so much more than just be the insanely creative front man for the world’s most innovative technology company. He was also a frail human being doing what he does best, in the knowledge that he won’t be doing it forever. He allowed us to see that there’s no shame to having cancer, and that you persevere and make the most of the talents you’ve been given in whatever time you have.

Jobs has not released the details of his illness, which is entirely his right. It’s safe to presume he is receiving the best medical care that money can buy. Wealth and prestige is no match for pancreatic cancer, however, which has a grim prognosis. He seemed ill at ease on that stage, which is unusual for him, and his usually expansive hand gestures and commanding body language were noticeably absent. I found myself watching him more than caring about the features of the iPad. Whether he likes it or not, he is as much the story of what happens at Apple as the gadgets his company makes. What a burden, but a burden he has so far carried with aplomb and guts.

By the way, Jobs delivered the commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 on "How to live before you die." He doesn't give up much of himself in that speech either, beyond his official biography, but he does acknowledge his mortality. That alone makes him almost unique among the titans of American industry.

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