“Inventing the Future”
I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s excellent authorized biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and the possessor of one of the greatest and most innovative minds in history. Like few other people, Jobs could envision the future and then invent it, creating technology that changed the way we communicate with one another, store information, and learn. His inventions, and his ability to get them into people’s hands in every corner of the globe, fulfilled his oft-referenced desire to “make a dent in the universe.”
Jobs first asked Isaacson to write the book in 2004, shortly after doctors discovered cancer in Jobs’s body. Isaacson was working on another book and felt that Jobs was not old enough for a full-blown biography, that his story was far from over. But Jobs hadn’t told Isaacson about the cancer, and it wasn’t until 2009 that Jobs’s wife told Isaacson he needed to write the book because Steve didn’t have much time left. Doctors had discovered that the cancer had spread.
Isaacson made it clear to Jobs that he would create an honest portrayal of Jobs, including countless interviews with people Jobs had offended, fired, infuriated, and betrayed. Jobs gave Isaacson full control of the project and promised that he wouldn’t even read the book. It came out on October 24, 2011, nearly three weeks after Jobs’s death. Like many great biographies, the book invites readers into the vivid world of its subject, in this case the world of Silicon Valley, Apple stores, the Pixar studios, and even the circuits and inner workings of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Isaacson does not sugarcoat his subject: Jobs was not a nice man. The book paints a picture of a man obsessed with inventing the future. Anyone getting in his way ended up in his wide wake of victims. He was moody, angry, and manipulative, usually getting what he wanted. He shunned philanthropy and insisted that money had nothing to do with his drive to invent the future.
Whenever I read biographies of God-gifted people such as Steve Jobs, I always look for echoes of the great Creator and Innovator, God, who must have been pleased watching Jobs discover the hidden treasures of his created earth. As one Christian blogger wrote in response to a post entitled “10 Golden Lessons from Steve Jobs,” “People only discover what God has already created.”
One of Steve Jobs’s favorite sayings was, “The best way to predict the future is by inventing it.” I suspect that the anonymous Christian blogger above might take issue with this presumptuous claim. Jobs may have made a small dent in the universe, but the Creator of that universe not only sees the future, he also actually created it. Psalm 139:13-16 would probably resonate with a guy like Steve Jobs and his attention to detail and perfection.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed. (NLT)
Near death, emaciated, and no longer able to fight the cancer in his system, Jobs said he was “fifty-fifty on believing in God” soon after conceding that he might be, in Isaacson’s words, “overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in the afterlife.” Jobs could see far and could understand complex systems, but he could not bring himself to believe the simple truth that many mere mortals know to be true—that God is real and in control of all things, including technology and those who “invent” it.
But according to the eulogy delivered by his sister, who was at his bedside when he died, Jobs sat up near the end. He looked at each member of his family, then gazed over their shoulders and said, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Then he died.
I was shaken by Jobs’s words when I read them in the newspaper the day after the funeral. I’d like to believe that God gave him another glimpse of the future. For a man who hated most ideas when they were presented to him, his wonderment and instant acceptance of what he saw is a testament that he did indeed glimpse heaven and knew it to be true.
Ron DeBoer is a writer and educator living near Toronto.