Every generation has its heroes.
These figures all have critics, but people in almost every demographic category revere them. Their importance shapes our culture.
What about this generation, though? Our hero is more difficult to find. We could look to politics, but even President Barack Obama, who conducted one of the most inspiring campaigns in American history, faces heavy criticism.
Entertainment celebrities are similarly ill-suited for the role because of websites like Perez Hilton and TMZ. As for entertainer-politicians; Arnold Schwarzenegger is hardly former President Ronald Reagan.
But the coverage of Steve Jobs has brought him to the forefront of media attention. His passing is a tremendous loss — and the public’s response suggests he might just be our generation’s hero.
His death has shown how the role of the traditional hero is falling and a technological innovator leader such as Jobs could be the new hero.
It might seem ridiculous to grant him this title only a week after his death. He’s been an important public figure for some time, but the term hero is rather emotional.
Yet, frankly, so are the comments on his death. Business and technology leaders have responded with reverence, but so have people who have almost nothing to do with his line of work.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg remembered Jobs with eloquence: “Again and again over the last four decades, Steve Jobs saw the future and brought it to life long before most people could even see the horizon.”
Surprisingly, so did Ashton Kutcher: “We have all surfed on the wake of Steve Jobs’ ship. Now we must learn to sail, but we will never forget our skipper.”
Emotions also ran high at Apple stores across the country. A CNET feature on the experience at the stores was full of touching quotes.
When asked how much he has spent on Apple electronics, one customer simply said, “You know what, today it doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t matter. I loved them.”
Jobs’ hero status has several implications for our generation. Some of them are related to technology. Others, though, have more to do with what we will come to expect of our future leaders.
First of all, the utilitarian days of technology are ending. Value will be determined through something more powerful than logic: feeling.
Though the last few decades have been full of rapid innovation, Jobs stood out by personalizing our relationship with gadgets.
For evidence, spend an evening watching Pixar’s Toy Story or hide your roommate’s iPod. Nowadays, it’s practically mandatory to include the personal touch.
Think about the way dysfunctional web pages look. They used to say, “404 not found.” Modern websites add in a small apologetic message, as if to demonstrate the Internet wants to say sorry.
That’s the path Jobs set us on. Judging by the way people revere his ideas, that’s the path we want technology to take. Perhaps one day we’ll shell out extra for beautiful microwaves.
More broadly, the way people idolize Jobs suggests Americans are prepared for a new kind of leader.
Traditionally, we appreciated heroes who knew how to sympathize — people who listened first and acted next (or at least appeared to do so).
Jobs didn’t fit this mold. His style is only traditional in the Silicon Valley: It’s unorthodox, informal and a little impertinent. One of his most famous quotes is about not listening to anyone but yourself: “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
He gave people what they wanted before they knew they wanted it at all.
These values could very well transcend the tech world. In 2008, the buzzwords of the presidential race were “hope” and “change.”
In a few more decades, they might be bolder; they might sound more like “think differently.”
Maya Itah is a senior majoring in communication. Her column “From Behind the Screen” runs Thursdays.