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Friday, October 07, 2011

Jobs: Connecting the Dots.

NY Times photo
Steven Paul Jobs, the man who invented The Apple, has died of pancreatic cancer.

I started using Apple products about eight years ago. It began with an iPhone which I preferred to my Motorola cell phone because the key pad on the iPhone was just like the key pad I had learned on my ancient electric typewriter (remember those?).

Besides, it was intuitive. Whenever I got into a place where my brain screamed, "I don't know how to do this, find the instruction manual!", I simply calmed down and moved my thinking to the part of my brain that doesn't. Think.

I would begin with the attitude of a child playing hide and seek, "Hmmm..... let's see....might it be here? No? Okay, let's look there......" The amazing thing is that, instead of getting frustrated, it became fun.

First lesson I learned from Steve Jobs: When technology is less frightening and frustrating, it can become fun. And, when it becomes fun, technology not only works, it sings.

It didn't take long for me to trade in my PC for a Mac Book Pro. That was a bit more of a challenge, but again - and, even today - I just allow my intuitive process to inform my thinking.

And, it works. Every time.

Eventually, I got an iPod. It was a birthday present. I wanted something for my small VW Bug that didn't involve carrying around stacks of CDs.

Which makes me laugh, because I remember the excitement about 8-Track players. They were certainly smaller than an "album" but larger than an "album" recorded on "tapes" but the sound was much, much better.

When you look at the size of the 8-track tape it was amazingly compact and portable when compared with an album.

The CD was an even more amazing improvement, with three or four CD discs taking up the space of one suddenly cumbersome 8-track tape.

With the iPod, however, I can bring thousands of pieces of music with me wherever I go, not to mention videos and discussions and books and photographs. All in my little VW Bug. Or, the gym. Or a hotel room in the middle of 'all-gospel-music-and-preachin' radio stations which seem to flourish anywhere south of the Mississippi.

I am going to resist buying the iPad only because its almost time for me to purchase another laptop. This time, I'm going with the Mac Book Air. I don't need a CD - I rarely, if ever use it - and all I really need is contained in about 2 pounds of machinery with a 13 inch screen.

Imagine that!

Well, Steven Paul Jobs did. Long before any of us were able to conceive of such an innovation.

How did he do it? Well, we get some clues from the commencement address he delivered at Stamford in 2005.

In that address, he tells three stories - one about his young life, one about love, and one about death. They are all wonderful stories, but the media reporting his life and death seems to be focused on what he had to say about death.

Which is wonderful. Really. I want to focus on what he said about his young life.

Jobs talks about how his young, biological, unwed, college student mother put him up for adoption but insisted that the couple who adopted her child be college graduates and promise that her child would go to college.

Turns out, the young lawyer couple who said that wanted him changed their minds when they discovered he was male and the couple who did want him were not college graduates but promised to send him off to college.

Which, they did. Reed College. At age 17. Except, Jobs dropped out after six months because, he said, "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK."

There are some things you can only learn by reading a book. There are other things you can only learn by trusting your intuition.

Here's what Jobs had to say about that:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
I love this. It speaks so much to my own life. How I got here, in this beautiful place on Rehoboth Bay, an Episcopal priest who hailed from a second floor tenement apartment above my grandparents strict Roman Catholic home in the middle of an immigrant neighborhood that was part of a gritty mill city in New England.

It takes stopping, from time to time, to connect the dots of your life. You can't do that by looking forward. You have to stop, look back, and, as Parker Palmer so wisely says, "Let your life speak".

I think Jobs went to his death knowing that his real wealth was the joy he experienced in his life - not the reported 4.6 billion dollar estate he left his wife and four children.

I certainly don't have - can't imagine (which is probably why I'll never have) - that kind of financial wealth, but I have something that I share with Steve Jobs: the joy of seeing the connections between the dots in your life and seeing that unique, wondrous pattern begin to emerge.

I suppose being closer to death puts that pattern in sharper, clearer focus. Which must make it bittersweet, then. I still have years before me - but I am increasingly, keenly aware that I have more years behind me than those which lie ahead of me.

And I'm aware that, still, I need to stop every now and again, to connect the dots. Follow my heart and my intuition. It's a wonderful, if not scary, way to live life. To see failure not as something of which to be ashamed but rather a lesson I couldn't have learned any other way.

And, that failures are still possible because I'll always be learning something new. Adapting. Adjusting. Downsizing my storage areas in order to make room for more knowledge or information.

And, love. And, joy.

Jobs was once asked if he was glad he had kids. He said, "It’s 10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done.”

Children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends are all part of the dots that connect our lives in a wonderful, unique, complex pattern of relationships that hold our lives together.  Relationships are the glue in the center of the life of the cosmos.

Jobs said to the graduating class of 2005 at Stamford,
"Most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Thanks, Steve Jobs, for your life and the rich legacy of amazing gifts you have left behind.

In the great, mysterious puzzle of life, your life has been an important, connecting dot in the ever-emerging puzzle of our complex, modern lives.

Thanks, mostly, for encouraging us to take a bite out of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and to rediscover ourselves naked and beautiful again in the midst of the Paradise that rises out of the intuitive mist when the heart connects with the mind. 

That, I think, is your greatest legacy. Not so much the new, modern things you invented but the ancient truths you rediscovered.

As we move forward into a future we can't imagine, I hope we are able to follow your lead and, every now and again, look back and connect the dots.

And, take another bite out of the apple.


Brother David said...

The authorized biography of Steve Jobs will be published in a couple of weeks in both paper and electronic editions. The author tells the story of meeting with Steve about a month ago. Steve was ill and had moved to a downstairs room in his house because he no longer could navigate the stairs very easily. He was in pain that day and a bit curled up on a sofa.

During this final interview, which will be a last minute edition to the book, he asked Steve why he wanted such an intrusion into his life when he had always been such a private, almost secretive, person before. Steve said that he did it for his kids. He said that he felt that he was not always there for them because he worked so much and he wanted them to know and understand what he did.

It should be interesting reading for us all.

Brother David said...

Oh, BTW, I have been an Apple fanboi since OCT 1984. I bought the first Macintosh (I maxed the emergency bank card my Papá had given me in one passing) because I was a new seminary grad student at Perkins School of Theology at SMU and I had never typed a paper in my life, let alone one in English. The Mac let me type the whole thing and make all the corrections, changes and rearrangements until I had it perfect before I ever had to commit it to paper. To me that was magic.

Bruce said...

Great article--as usual! Nonetheless I'll keep my PC.
Also trying to figure out if I live north or south of the Mississippi given your reference here:

"Or a hotel room in the middle of 'all-gospel-music-and-preachin' radio stations which seem to flourish anywhere south of the Mississippi."

Eastern seaboard geography!