It’s worth re-reading Andy Crouch’s essay on Steve Jobs, written in January 2011 upon his resignation, excerpted below:
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Apple made technology safe for cool people—and ordinary people. It made products that worked, beautifully, without fuss and with a great deal of style. They improved markedly, unmistakably, from one generation to the next—not just in a long list of features and ever-spiraling complexity (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Word), but in simplicity. Press the single button on the face of the iPad and, whether you are five or 95, you can begin using it with almost no instruction. It has no manual. No geeks required.
Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It’s worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn’t, say:
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’s 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’s 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. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
This is the gospel of a secular age. It has the great virtue of being based only on what we can all perceive—it requires neither revelation nor dogma. And it promises nothing it cannot deliver—since all that is promised is the opportunity to live your own unique life, a hope that is manifestly realizable since it is offered by one who has so spectacularly succeeded by following his own “inner voice, heart and intuition.”
Jobs was by no means the first person to articulate this vision of a meaningful life—Socrates, the Buddha, and Emerson come to mind. To be sure, fully embracing this secular gospel requires an austerity of spirit that few have been able to muster, even if it sounds quite fine on the lawn of Stanford University. Upon close inspection, this gospel offers no hope that you cannot generate yourself, and only the comfort of having been true to yourself. . . .
But the genius of Steve Jobs has been to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough. The world—at least the part of the world in our laptop bags and our pockets, the devices that display our unique lives to others and reflect them to ourselves—will get better. This is the sense in which the tired old cliché of “the Apple faithful” and the “cult of the Mac” is true. It is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful, even if it will soon be dated, dusty, and discarded like a 2001 iPod.
. . . Steve Jobs’s gospel is, in the end, a set of beautifully polished empty promises. But I look on my secular neighbors, millions of them, like sheep without a shepherd, who no longer believe in anything they cannot see, and I cannot help feeling compassion for them, and something like fear. When, not if, Steve Jobs departs the stage, will there be anyone left who can convince them to hope?