Steve Jobs, who died on October 5, 2011, was, without question, a technological genius whose vision not only shaped an industry, but also our entire culture.
In the world of Steve Jobs, technology became personal, intimate, relational and revolutionary. With an iPod your ear, playing your music downloaded from iTunes, you check your messages on your iPhone and network using your iPad. Your Apple computer gives you point and click access to a world of knowledge and play. You are deeply, profoundly connected to the digital age and Steve Jobs did that to us, for us, as us—his instinct for marketing almost mystical in its ability to anticipate human desire.
But it was the shiny apple with the big bite taken out of it, the symbol of Apple, Inc., that has most entranced me in its profound theological implications. The megabytes, the multiple units of information storage on a computer, are somehow also a way to take a bite out of the apple of knowledge.
The symbol of Apple, Inc., the bitten apple, can also be read as the apple that Eve bit into in the Garden of Eden and then offered to Adam. Could that be right? Is our relationship with this new technology that profound? Did Jobs understand the origin of human desire for more knowledge, as described in the biblical book of Genesis, and market it as Apple, Inc.?
Yes, I think he did.
Kurt Vonnegut, another genius in the ability to comprehend our time, understood this too. He famously told the Syracuse University graduating class of 1994, the first Internet generation, that they weren’t “Generation X,” as the marketing people wanted to call them. No, this first Internet generation, Vonnegut said, was “Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve so long ago.”
The story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the innocence of the Garden of Eden may be the most famous story in the world. It is story “A,” the story of the beginning. It is a story of human desire, and the way people want to know more than may be good for them. Whatever else human beings are, they are the creatures who want to know more.
And somehow, Steve Jobs knew that.
There are very few people who have as much impact on their times, and on the time to come, as Jobs. But fewer still are those who seem to profoundly grasp the deep existential truths of the human condition.
Not only did Jobs grasp the desire for more knowledge that so defines what it means to be human, he also grasped the existential truth of finitude. We are finite. We will all die. Many ignore that uncomfortable fact, Jobs knew, and live in denial of finitude. That’s a trap.
In Jobs’s address to the Stanford University graduating class of 2005, Jobs told three stories, stories that should have been stories about loss, but were, for him, stories of invention and change. The first story was about dropping out of college, and the second was about getting fired from Apple.
The third story was “about death,” based on his reflections on his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and subsequent surgery.
“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. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Steve Jobs was, without doubt, a technological genius, but he was also, in my view, a profound theologian because he understood the human condition as lived between desire and finitude. Together these define us, for good and for ill.
So, in addition to all the technological creativity Jobs shared with us, learn from his theological creativity too. Honor yourself, and the author of your existence, and make the most of your life every day.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite | Oct 6, 2011 6:28 AM