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Steve Jobs' Death: Why We Care So Much

Jobs personified that mythic notion of a leader, even a hero.

Last night, when ABC news interrupted regularly scheduled programming for breaking news, for a change, it was really breaking news-Steve Jobs had died. Instantly, my eyes welled up, I gulped and yelled out to a passing wife, "Steve jobs died." She actually dropped what she was carrying and expelled an "Oh my God, no!" Then we both fell silent for a moment. She said, "I can't believe it, I'm going to cry." I said, "I already am." We both spent the rest of the day and night coming back to it.

I thought about why his death hit me like that. I don't even own a Mac, or any Apple-produced, Jobs-inspired, communication devices. No i-anything. Yet, the guy permeated my life: His fight with cancer, news of his secret liver transplant, his break with Stephen Gary Wozniak and their subsequent sniping at each other, his being fired from Apple, the company he started, then being rehired and bringing it back from also-ran, near life-support status to become the most successful corporation in Silicon Valley history—and its sexiest, with a following of devoted digital groupies that rivaled The Grateful Dead in their heyday. Jobs could have played the L.A. Staples Center and filled it.

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Then there were the Apple Stores. Sheer icy class and magic.

Of course, there was THE COMMERCIAL. I'm talking, of course, about the "1984"commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh Computer to the world. It aired as a commercial only one time, January 22, 1984, during the third quarter of 1984 Super Bowl. Yet, it is widely regarded as one of the most memorable and successful American television commercials of all time. Yes, Jobs didn't produce, it but he authorized it and informed it to fit his image (and Apple's), as a rebel-with a cause.

So, again, why did I-why did we-care so much about Steve Jobs' death?

The quick answer is because we cared so much about his life.

Why?

Well, here's a list of reasons that I free-associated: Add your own.

1. He personified that mythic notion of a leader. Maybe he was even a hero.

2. He had a parasocial relationship with us. We felt we knew him, even if he never knew us. With him, we created something that transforms the me-them relationship to one that is, quite simply -- an "us."

3. Actually, we really didn't know him that well. His private life was hidden from view. We didn't know his full humanness-warts and all, making it easier, simpler, to admire him as a man and convert him into an icon, keeping him connected to the products of his genius. (Unlike, say Michael Jackson's, whose music and dance legacy lives on, but are separated in our minds from his complex, public, confusing lifestyle and bizarre personality, during his outrageous, talented life, trailing his memory, even to the moment of and circumstances surrounding his death.)

4. Jobs' like will not easily come again-even his rival, Bill Gates, admired him, especially for his taste and aesthetics.

5. His continued innovation, which fed our wet dream-techno-anticipations, is silenced, snuffed out at its zenith. Here is TRAGEDY!

6. He led the growth of one of the sexiest industries since the movies. Hollywood and Silicon Valley (or Cupertino)  -- both dream factories.

7. His fame was not fleeting, his accomplishments kept on coming. He lived and created till he died.

8. Sometimes we wanted to know him, even wanted to be him, if only for a day.

9. He had demonstrable and acknowledged greatness.

10. He is part of "the story of our lives," with all the images, words and music.

11. He effected a transformative impact on the world's cultures .

12. He achieved an iconic status that was part P.T. Barnum, part Louis B. Mayer, part Johannes Gutenberg, and part Thomas Edison.

Steve Jobs, you will be mourned and you will be most certainly missed

 

 

 

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., is Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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