So, Steve Jobs is dead. A tech genius has passed on. Sad. Certainly a devastating loss to Steve Jobs' close friends and family members, as well as to Apple executives and shareholders. The rest of you? Calm down.
Among my Facebook friends yesterday, more than one wrote publicly that they were "crying" or "can't stop crying" or "teared up" due to Steve Jobs' death. Really now. You can't stop crying, now that you've heard that a middle-aged CEO has passed on, after a long battle with cancer? If humans were always so empathetic, well, that would be understandable. But this type of one-upmanship of public displays of grief is both unbecoming and undeserved.
Real outpourings of public grief should be reserved for those people who lived life so heroically and selflessly that they stand as shining examples of love for all of humanity. People like, for example, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who—along with his family—was bombed, beaten, and stabbed during his years of principled activism in the US civil rights movement. Shuttlesworth died yesterday, the same day as Steve Jobs. He did not die a billionaire.
Death, of course, is not a competition. All deaths are sad for the living. Everyone deserves to be mourned, and well-known people will inevitably be mourned more loudly than others. But it is actually important to keep our grief in perspective. When we start mourning technocrats as idols, we cheapen the lives of those who have sacrificed more for their fellow man.
Steve Jobs was great at what he did. There's no need to further fellate the man's memory. He made good computers, he made good phones, he made good music players. He sold them well. He got obscenely rich. He enabled an entire generation of techie design fetishists to walk around with more attractive gadgets. He did not meaningfully reduce poverty, or make life-saving scientific discoveries, or end wars or heal the sick or befriend the friendless. Which is fine—most of us don't. But most of us don't provoke such cult-like lachrymosity when we pass on. When even the journalists tasked with covering you and your company are reduced to pie-eyed fans apologizing for discomforting your insanely powerful multibillion-dollar corporation in some minor way, some perspective has been lost.
I've never owned an Apple product. Yet here I am, talking on phones, typing on computers, and reading the internet every day. If you like Apple products, fine. They are products. They do not have souls. They are not heroes, and neither is their creator, no matter how skilled he may have been. Let's mourn Steve Jobs as we mourn the passing of any other good man—modestly, privately, and quietly. Those of you whose remembrances have already taken on a quasi-religious tone: seek help.
[Photos of Jobs and fans gathered outside Apple stores last night via AP]