No one has ever died the way Steve Jobs is dying.
Other people have died of cancer.
Other people have died in the public eye.
Other people may even have died in public installments, their impending demise meted out in a series of statements to interested parties such as employees and shareholders.
But no one has ever died with the inexorable logic of their mortality feeding into a logic of expectation that they themselves made inexorable — that they themselves created and aroused. Other men have had to tell the world that they are dying.
Steve Jobs has to say that he is dying to a world that is dying to know when the iPhone 5 is finally coming out.
This is not to say that we don't love him. This is to say that what we love him for is rewriting the language of technological progress.
Before Steve Jobs, the progress of the machine was understood to be primarily mechanical — to be of the machine itself rather than the people who dreamed it into being.
We were being dragged into the future by Moore's Law, the doubling of computer-chip capacity that repeated itself every two years.
It was miraculous but inhuman, a law of man that had the immutable force of a law of nature, and the man who was its primary beneficiary, Bill Gates, honored it by making miraculously inhuman products.
That ended when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and starting making computers in cool colors as a prelude to making computers that were actually cool.
Henceforth, we weren't going to be dragged into the future by restless and relentless circuitry and a company that depended on antitrust violations; we were going to be led, by a man who knew how to give us a rooting interest in our own progress, who knew how to make progress seem a matter of choice, who knew how to describe progress in the language that we wanted to use all along, which was the language of boyhood.
Of course, it took awhile.
But Steve Jobs usurped the cultural authority of Moore's Law, and with it the idea that technological progress was something that occurred both inevitably and outside ourselves. Progress was inevitable, all right, but because we wanted it — because we, like him, wanted stuff that that was "neat" and "awesome" and "cool."
We can say that Steve Jobs humanized technological progress, that he made it feel like the product of our desires by matching it with our desire for products.
But it's easier to say that he was and will always be the man who gave us back our toys.
Now he has resigned as the chief executive of Apple, with an announcement that eerily echoes the announcements we've come to depend on — an announcement by Steve Jobs of the thing that will be the next thing:
"I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come." "Unfortunately" is the grabber here, because of its finality. Steve Jobs has made a career of raising expectations and then meeting them, of saying "and one more thing" and then unveiling the thing he deems essential.
Well, it is the same here at the end, except that his use of the word "unfortunately" is the "and one more thing" of a dying man.
More than any other purveyor of technological products, Steve Jobs has seemingly translated his soul into machines meant to be immortal even when they are only as eternal as consumerist whim; now, at the very moment when the language of technological immortality is becoming most explicit — when he stands ready to translate himself and his company into "the cloud," with its promise of digital files backed forever by technology that never goes out of date — he is stranded, like Moses, in the land of the body, and its inevitable swift transit.
"And one more thing," he says, except this time there is no iPod or iPhone or iPad or iCloud to follow.
There is only this unspoken plea, as his body changes within its still unvarying uniform of black shirts and blue jeans: I'm dying.
There is always a next thing, in technology.
Steve Jobs has taught us that, trained us to expect and demand it.
There is also always a next thing, in sickness and death.
He is teaching us that, too. Of course, it is a lesson that has been taught just as well by every human being who has ever walked the planet.
But Steve Jobs, who has done more than anyone to make the idea of a "digital life" possible, might have one last lesson for us, by letting us in on his digital death.
The logic of technology has always been offered as an answer to the logic of mortality; as it turns out, it is the same logic — the logic of inexorable advance.
The logic of Moore's Law turns out to have its biological analogue in the logic of cancer, and so it still reigns.
Steve Jobs, in his career at Apple, reminded us that technological progress is but a human invention, subject to human hopes and human dreams and human choice.
In his resignation — terrible and moving both for what it admits and for what it leaves out — he reminds us that technology doesn't answer death so much as it shares its preference for forward motion.
We hope and we dream; maybe we even change the world by getting people to hope and dream that the iPhone 5 will come out in September.
But we don't get to choose much of anything, in the end. We succumb.
esquire.com / By Tom junod