Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#291 / Steve Job's Advice

According to a San Jose Mercury News article published on Sunday, October 9th, Steve Job's speech to Stanford's 2005 graduating class was the "The Gettysburg Address of graduation speeches."

Jobs told "three stories" in his famous speech, and his last story was about "Death." This piece of advice pretty much summarized the story:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Prior to communicating this insight, intended to provide some individual guidance to the graduates on how they should conduct their lives, Jobs made a more philosophical observation:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
This observation, it seems to me, is not only "quite true," its truth reflects an understanding of the world that sees our human lives as taking place within a natural environment that is, ultimately, more important than we are. We are the background, not the foreground, of the story. We get confused when we forget that "Death is ... the single best invention of Life."

It is no coincidence that our synthetic materials have a peculiar characteristic: they never die. In fact, it is this characteristic that makes them so toxic. Many of our other efforts, including our recently-invented GMOs, seem intended to achieve the same result: to establish a reality, created by us, that will never die. And we want to achieve that result for ourselves, as well.

Steve Jobs made great contributions to the human world that it is our delight to be able to create within the greater world that we do not create. Steve Jobs is leaving that world all too soon. It brings me, as so many others, great sadness to see him go; every day (in fact in this very instant, as I type this) I am empowered by the realities he helped to bring into existence.

I do think, though, that Steve Job's advice was good, and that his understanding of our place in the world that underlies that advice is not only "quite true" but is "profoundly" true. May we remember this, so that life can continue.


  1. The speech at Stanford is available as a TED talk on the Web.

    By contrast, it was a relatively good death for a good life, so it can be celebrated without regret. My guess is that history will reveal that he arranged to terminate his life by his own action. With his wealth, he could assure the necessary medical assistance to make make his death happen in a dignified and happy way with his family, a grace denied to the rest of us without great effort.

    Proponents of life extension for humans never seem to consider the practical implications of immortality. Will the immortals be eating food, drinking water, driving cars, discarding trash, buying houses and otherwise exploiting earth's diminishing resources? Jobs was correct that death is a gift for us all. The numbers do not work for immortality.

  2. A very thoughtful comment. Thank you, Anonymous!


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