This article originally ran in January 2011.
Steve Jobs's medical leave of absence is the top story in today's newspapers. The Wall Street Journal says his brief and poignant memo raises "uncertainty over his health and the future of the world's most valuable technology company." These two questions—Jobs's health and Apple's health—are the focus of almost all the coverage today.
But I'm interested in the health of our culture, and what will happen to it when (not if) Steve Jobs departs the stage for the last time.
As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple's early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.
In the 2000s, when much about the wider world was causing Americans intense anxiety, the one thing that got inarguably better, much better, was our personal technology. In October 2001, with the World Trade Center still smoldering and the Internet financial bubble burst, Apple introduced the iPod. In January 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession, the very month where unemployment breached 10 percent for the first time in a generation, Apple introduced the iPad.
Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—and technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.