Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Dean Kamen are probably the only celebrity technologists we have left. And here we define “celebrity” as “well known enough that their names and signature accomplishments would be familiar to the average person.” Woz would be on that list, but since leaving Apple, he’s happily shifted his public pursuits away from building new technology and towards education. Jeff Bezos, too, but for the fact that he seems to shun the spotlight.
Celebrity technologists are so rare because they have problems that no other celebrities have. First, people are always asking them to fix their computers, and secondly, nobody else is under lifelong pressure to always have a good answer to the question “But what have you done recently?” Nobody ever complained to Tom Hanks that the movie he made this year was a crushing disappointment because he looked mostly the same as he did in the movie he made the year before.
Which is why celebrity technologists like Steve Jobs are so rare. Kim Kardashian has a full-time job just trying to make herself seem famous. Technologists, however, have to actually produce things. We might never get another one of “our people” on the cover of a major newsmagazine again, but that’s just fine. We’re more happy with the tangible things that these people create.
(Also: none of us want to see a technologist’s sex video. I imagine that the whole thing is just bad skin and efficient technique.)
When a loved one dies, first you mourn the loss, then you comfort the bereaved, then you celebrate the life of the deceased…and then you move on.
I’ve spent much of the past month thinking about and writing about Jobs, a man who’s been an offstage, two-degrees-of-separation presence throughout my entire life. It’s important to consider the complete dimensions of his life—the very good, and the bad—but at the end you’re still left impressed.
There’s plenty of accidental symbolism in the release of iOS 5 and iCloud a week (to the day) after his death. Steve had been pointing Apple towards iCloud since he was a mere Advisor To Apple’s CEO. In a 1997 Q&A with developers, he was asked to be specific about certain transformative technologies that he believed Apple should be pursuing. He quickly leaped into a description of a system that NeXT had developed for in-house use: a massive server that backed up everybody’s home directory and could serve it to any NeXT machine anywhere. He spoke of a working environment in which being near “his” computer wasn’t important so long as he was near “a” computer, and he never lost a single file due to a hard drive crash because a server was handling backups constantly.
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