Since the early ’80s, when we bought our first computer, Apple has been our technology of choice. In fact, we still have our old Mac Plus, with its now-archaic little black-and-white screen. A few minutes, when I asked my wife where we had it stored, the first words out of her mouth were “I just love that thing!”
(The photo below of our old Mac Plus, powered up and ready to go, was snapped in our backyard on my Iphone, then shipped via email to my Macbook Pro for posting here via wireless.) Certainly nothing we envisioned when we first fired that thing up and stared at it in amazement.
What I always appreciated about Apple technology was its elegance. And I don’t just mean the elegance of its visible design, although it certainly had that as well. The external elegance wasn’t misleading; the sleek, graceful lines of Mac products reflected the sleek, graceful way the products actually functioned. What Apple did better than any other technology company, and perhaps better than any other company of any type, was to put the user experience first. And it shows.
Yes, it costs more. I’m not a big car guy. For me, a car serves to get me from Point A to Point B, and I’m perfectly content driving a cheaper form of transportation. In the car world, I’d be a PC. But when it comes to technology, I’m willing to pay more for better performance.
Of course, there was a man behind all of that, a human being: the late Steve Jobs, who passed away yesterday after a years-long bout with pancreatic cancer. That kind of illness is like a bullet coming at you in slow motion, a bullet that you see headed toward your heart but you know you can’t dodge.
Six years ago, after his initial brush with the disease and at a point when he actually did think he had dodged that bullet, Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He talked about his early success, about his business setbacks, about his college experience. But he also talked, quite elegantly of course, about death. Here’s what he had to say:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has
been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.
In other words, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase Mr. Jobs, life is about the user experience.
– Jay Bookman