Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs - My Five Stages of Grief

Although it was not a secret that Steve Jobs was unwell, it came as a big shock to me when I heard the news of Steve's passing from a colleague at work. I felt like wind got knocked out of me and I was finding it really hard to believe the story. I was hoping it was one of the bad viral "jokes" that some people like to play on the internet. However, visiting the Apple website, confirmed the news and his photo there looking straight into you, served as an even harder blow to my already sad state of mind. As I drove home from work, I tried hard to distract my thoughts by trying to listen to some podcasts but it was really difficult to do take the news out of my thoughts. Various YouTube videos of his keynotes, his inspirational keynote at Stanford and the iconic devices that he launched kept running in my mind.

Once I got home, I was hoping that the routine of taking care of my 3 month old daughter and my 3 year old son would engulf my thought process and I would not have to deal with the grief at that time. On the contrary, as I sat there in the couch, I could not control my urge to browse the incoming stream on Facebook, Google+ and the posts on various websites. However, some of the posts that I saw made me angry such as posts from my friend "iSad" or a response to that "i2". I somehow felt these posts were mocking the iconic figure and the great products that he launched. Then I saw Jeff Jarvis's post on Google+ that said "iGratitude" and this somehow made me angrier and I stopped reading the posts. Taking care of the kids help me put the loss to the background and the rest of the evening I tried hard to not think about it. What I failed to realize was that everybody was going through the grieving process just like me but in different ways and were in its different stages.

I woke up really early next morning to take care of the crying infant but after feeding and burping her and putting her back to sleep, I could not get sleep myself and as any geek would do, I fired up my MacBook and resumed reading posts about the tragedy. There were so many posts by people I follow on G+ and reading each of them helped some of the healing process but I was on some sort of an emotional roller coaster. Some posts made me feel inspired, thinking about how great a person Steve was, while other posts made me sad thinking of how big a loss it was to technology, his family and to society at large. Reading through his Wikipedia entry, his lifestyle, his past, his career and his humble beginnings, about him sleeping on the floor in friends' rooms, returning Coke bottles for food money, and getting weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple filled me with a mix of emotions.

I was never an Apple fanboy. On the contrary, I own and use an Android phone - DroidX and do not own an iPhone. In fact, way back in 2006, when I completed my Masters thesis, I decided to buy an MP3 player and although iPod's were the rage and style at that time, I chose to buy the Creative Zen as it was supposed to have superior specifications - better display resolution, bigger hard drive, FM tuner and the ability to record audio. However, as I started to use the device, it became abundantly clear why people chose the iPod over the other mass of MP3 players. It was a real pain in the rear to locate podcasts or other paid content on the web using its software and sync to the device. Sure enough, I stopped using the device in a couple of months but I chose to not buy any Apple device because it was "closed" and vertically integrated. A couple of years later, in order to familiarize myself with the iOS platform, I chose to buy a MacBook and over time, I started to see why people flocked in such large numbers to buy the latest devices that Steve convinced you that you really needed it. It was not about intentionally building "closed" systems but rather taking ownership and responsibility of all elements that go into building a system and delivering a product and consumer experience where the end user was more than satisfied and did not have to go through the maze of finding out who to contact in case there were issues - the hardware manufacturer, the OS vendor, the software vendor who wrote the app for managing the device or the clueless sales guy who was just driven by commission. Anybody who owns an Apple product or has visited an Apple store knows exactly what I mean.

Personally, I was very disappointed with the announcements in the Apple keynote the previous day with the iPhone 4S announcements. It seemed like Steve's absence from the keynote had somehow made it less interesting. Deep inside, live everybody else, I was hoping that Steve would show up at some point in the keynote and announce something that would shake up some aspect of our lives. As I mulled over the announcements at the keynote, Steve's loss and read through the huge amount of posts and discussions about him, it became abundantly clear that he had made such a huge impact on our lives, weather we liked it or not, weather you were an Apple fanboy or not. He was able to raise the bar of technology, smartphones and mobile computing to such high levels in such a short time. What he accomplished was so huge, so dramatic and so fundamentally game changing, it was something that most tech savvy CEOs would not be able to accomplish even if they all put their minds together and took double the amount of time.

Looking at the timeline of the key things he launched (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and iOS), it seemed like he had a huge burst of energy after he realized how short his stay was going to be. Most people in this situation would choose to do things that would give themselves and their near-and-dear ones happiness but this man chose to spend it in building revolutionary devices that would change the world. Sure, there were PDAs, smartphones and tablet computers with touch interfaces before the iPhone but his obsession to detail and with only the consumer and their experience in mind he was able to bring this to the masses. Consumers could now use a device that, although "closed", provided them with great features and functionality and made them want more. My 3 year old is so accustomed to the natural touch interface that he occasionally touches the movie icons on the TV assuming it to also have the same interface. Most iPhone/iPad users are not technically savvy but they now have access to technology and functionality that was only used by geeks. His tough years at college, his strange career struggles (being pushed out of a company that you founded), his battles with cancer, his simplistic lifestyle and his passion and obsession with technology, all showcase the multiple facets of this great person.

Steve Jobs, you have changed the world for generations to come. You will always serve as an inspiration, a constant motivator, to push us to raise the bar of technology, to excel at whatever we do and do it with passion. May your soul rest in peace. My deep condolences to your family and relatives. You will always be remembered.