The outpouring of tributes to Steve Jobs speaks to his enormous global impact. So many have rightly described him as a design and marketing genius, but he will and should be credited with a far greater role in literally – to paraphrase Alan Kay – inventing the future. He is among the key individuals who fostered the innovations that led to the revolution in personal computing since the late 1970s, and which provided core infrastructure for the Internet, which has been based on the personal computer in the household since. His more recent role in innovations around the smart phone and the tablet computer are equally revolutionary in fostering what we have called the ‘next generation user’, who accesses the Internet from multiple devices, including appliances, often on the move (Dutton and Blank 2011). I am sure that many will focus on his recent role in creating new products and building the Apple brand, but he is not just a loss in the world of the computer and Internet industry and corporate competition, but also a loss to all those with a serious interest in the future of the information and communication revolution we have lived through over the past decades.
His passing led me to immediately recall the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial. The beautiful female athlete that hurls the hammer into the screen that was displaying Big Brother, speaking to the masses, is certainly the anti-thesis of the computer nerd, Steve Jobs. But surely she represented his ambition to liberate the individual computer user. The innovations he has been associated with have done much to enable more individuals to use technologies in ways that provided them with more communicative power and the ability to hold institutions across society more accountable. He is often criticised for moving towards an appliance-based, walled-garden approach, but his smart phone and tablets have not become a substitute for the personal computer, but more of a complement that extends and embeds the Internet in everyday life and work (Dutton and Blank 2011).
Barack Obama has been quoted as saying that Jobs ‘… changed the way each of us sees the world’. Indeed, and he enabled each of us to have more personal control over how we see the world.
Dutton, W. H., and Blank, G. (2011), Next Generation Users: The Oxford Internet Survey 2011. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.