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Another Industry Legend Steps Down: Steve Jobs Retires

When I was in high school (in the early '90s; I'm not that old, no matter how grouchy I tend to be), I had to write an essay for a contest. The topic was as follows: "Agree or disagree: The world has changed more in the last 100 years than it did from the time of Christ until the end of the 19th century." I agreed. Wholeheartedly. 

I won't (and can't) reproduce the essay for you here. My guess is, given my disdain for brevity, I wrote a lot, and the judges didn't read all the way to the end of my ramblings. At some point, they probably gave up; in any case, I won the competition. There's a lesson in there somewhere: If you can't beat them (whoever "they" are), grind them down. (Also, growing up in a small town means that there are fewer competitors to beat in an essay competition.)

But I digress. A lot. The reason I thought of that essay tonight for the first time in 20 years is that Steve Jobs announced his retirement from Apple on Wednesday evening. That means that a lot of people are going to write over the next few days about Steve Jobs, the future of his company, his failing health and his legacy.

All of that will be appropriate, of course, but that's not what I want to write about tonight. I'm here simply to say that with the departure of Jobs from the industry -- he'll still stay on as Apple's chairman with Tim Cook coming in as CEO, but it seems pretty obvious that Jobs really is stepping away this time -- another of the great figures of technology is effectively ending his career as a mainstream executive.

And here's where that high school essay comes in. You'd better believe that the world has changed more in the last 111 years or so than it did in the couple thousand years before that. The automobile, the airplane and the microprocessor -- among many other inventions -- have seen to that. And we've just sort of gone on from there. People like Steve Jobs have led the way.

I don't need to tell you what Steve Jobs has meant to the technology industry. What we all should think about today is what he (along with Bill Gates, and Scott McNealy, and John Warnock, and Mitch Kapor, and many others -- maybe even Larry Ellison) has meant to the world. Steve Jobs has fundamentally changed the way we entertain ourselves, the way we communicate with each other, the way many of us do our jobs, and maybe even the way we think. And that goes for those who have iWhatevers and for those who don't.

He's one of the people whose picture will someday appear in textbooks (probably iTextbooks), if it doesn't already. He's a pioneer, a titan of industry, a luminous figure not just in technology or in our modern world but in all of human history. Oh, yes. They all are. All the big names are.

This generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, this first true "computer" generation -- these are our Washingtons and our Jeffersons, our Gutenburgs and our Wright brothers. Without these people, our lives would be radically different; for one thing, many people reading this wouldn't have jobs, or at least wouldn't have jobs as rewarding and interesting as the ones they have today. (Yeah, work can stink anywhere, but technology is generally a pretty darn cool industry.)

Of course, Steve Jobs is still with us, as are many of his generation, and this isn't meant to be an epitaph. These people will move on, continue to innovate, continue to influence others and maybe even save the world (thank you, Mr. Gates). They'll all still stay rich, too, so there's no need to thank them too much. They've had their well-deserved recompense.

No, this little blog entry is meant only to be a reminder for us all to step back from our harried lives, our stressful jobs and our light-speed industry to realize that we've living in a time unparalleled by any other in human history, a time of creativity, innovation and prosperity that for thousands of years our ancestors could never have imagined. And it's a little reminder to tip our caps to the people who got us here, one of whom is Steve Jobs. Good luck, Mr. Jobs, with whatever comes next.

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Posted by Lee Pender on August 24, 2011 at 11:57 AM