Forget Man of the Year–Steve Jobs Is Man of the Century [Opinion]


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When I heard about Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s CEO on Wednesday afternoon I mentioned casually to a friend my assessment that “he’s probably the most influential human being of the past one hundred years.”

My friend laughed and said, “no way, you really think so?”

I challenged him to come up with someone more influential–and after a couple of minutes we agreed that Jobs’ influence on the course of human affairs has been something on the order of magnitude of Thomas Edison’s.

Another friend later ventured the opinion that the Dalai Lama or perhaps Adolph Hitler, or maybe Freud or Carl Jung had been more influential than Steve Jobs–but after having had more time to think about it, I’m sticking to my guns: in the past one hundred years, no single human being has had a greater influence on the way humans behave than Steve Jobs.

It’s interesting that my friend Ian and I settled on Edison as a figure of comparable impact because Jobs’ influence built upon some of the major inventions and innovations set in motion by Edison himself nearly a century before Jobs got his start in that famous garage with Steve Wozniak.

In particular, Edison’s phonograph eventually gave way to the portable digital music player known as the iPod; Edison’s influences on mass communications (in general) and telecommunications (in particular) were transformed forever in 2007 by the iPhone.

But it was really his first innovation–and his vision of what it could mean for people–that sealed Jobs’ place in history.

Perhaps the personal computer would have come along anyway, had Jobs and Wozniak not built the Apple I, but now, at the end of his career, it’s impossible to deny that Jobs’ vision influenced both the functionality and design of the whole segment of technology known as personal computers.

It’s impossible, too, to deny that personal computers have influenced the course of human affairs more than any other invention of the past one hundred years.

But Steve Jobs didn’t invent anything, some will say; he’s just a marketer. To which I say therein lies the genius of his influence.

As the thinking and philosophies of Freud and Jung led to understanding of human behavior and thence to the formation of modern marketing practices, so did Jobs’ own understanding of human behavior and his foresight into the potential impact of the things his engineers built underlie his influence on all of mankind.

Rarely is it possible in the course of human affairs to know–or to articulate–the true impact of any one person or any one event. As Steve Jobs begins his ride into the sunset of history, however, one is hard pressed to name anyone since Edison who’s put a greater ding in the universe.

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  • Mohammad Sadegh Farahat

    He is man of the World :(

  • Jonathan Rodwell


    I mean really?! Really?! REALLY?!?! 

    This is one of those blog posts that people write on the internet that makes you fear for modern society.

    So, without naming names, let me just check that Jobs is more influential than:

     – The numerous theorists of modern physics, biology and chemistry who have fundamentally altered our view of physical existence (and the cosmos)? 
     – The inventors of weapons of modern warfare and the politicians and armies that used them for various purposes, so changing the structure of politics and societies? 
     – The inventors of the jet engine that transformed the concept of distance.
     – The inventors of Penicillin, that saved countless LIVES.
     – Philosophers and social theorists who have challenged concepts of human nature, behaviour and morality?

    And this is without even mentioning the innovation of the transistor, internet etc etc. Oh and what about Sony, would there have been an iPod without a Walkman?

    And, what about Microsoft? Are Windows machines not much more influential than Apple’s? Microsoft stole plenty from Apple, but then Apple stole from other nascent systems, so…see my point?

    But then we get to the worse (and really quite insidious) bit of this post. What about the millions, even billions of people around the globe that do not use a single Apple device or even interact with one? Why would they even care who Steve Jobs is? There are more people in the world who do not want or need Apple gadgets than those that do.

    P.s. Jung and Freud whilst important have long since been challenged and in some cases refuted.

  • gareth edwards

    Tim Bernes Lee gets that plaudit IMO. The internet is monumental. It in the same magnitude as the wheel, electricity, writing and other world changing discoveries.

    BUT Jobs is awesome and is a hero to millions. A lot of this comes down to a mix of some wonderful things that it is hard to imagine all coming together in one single human. Stacks of vision, both in terms of products and importantly people to work with. Tyrannical attention to detail which is a vicious master but has helped others achieve their best work and, what I imagine, is an ocean of passion for his job which is inspirational.  I think the best of Jobs is that he never appears to have doubted his own vision (at least never in public). He always came across as the that guy who wanted to show you something really special, and before you even saw what it was you already felt it was, just by the way he talked. Real charisma is rare. 

    Not to downplay the significance of the Apple products though. There’s no doubt that they have been singularly instrumental in changing personal technology markets and how we view technology and interact with it. It’s the clearness of thought in many of the products that has turned the world on it’s head. iMac made computer less threatening and a nice thing to have on show rather than a box covered wires hidden under the desk.  iPod made digital music a mainstream reality because they showed us it was easy and not nerdy. It was fun for all.  The iPhone took the smart phone away from the tech heads and made us all see that is was easy for everyone to use and it was enjoyable.  The iPad continues in this vein. Simple doesn’t mean stupid – it can be what you want it to be and more.  I think most Apple users (esp long term) have a great personal affinity with their devices because we have grown up with this mentality – that technology isn’t a another country, it’s part of our every day lives.  I think that has been Steve’s most brilliant and subtle achievement, he made me have a relationship with my technology.

  • gareth edwards

    Yeah, Freud was a bit mental (no pun), his ideas were silly at best in most cases.

  • Ed_Kel

    I agree with your comment, to an extent. Your comment, however, is railing off “Inventors”. In my opinion, in this day and age (the information age), nobody has been more influential than Steve Jobs. Especially if you assume that mostly everything that can be invented has been invented within the constraints of technology progression. You can’t say that “Inventors” should and will always be “Men or Women of The Century” when all that we can rely on at the point is innovation upon invention.

    Most companies envy Apple and have done their very best to cash in on markets that Apple has created, like the iPad. Sure millions if not billions of people may not even know who Jobs is, but the companies that these people buy from sure do. I’m even willing to bet that most people you speak of (the “who is Steve Jobs?” people) in established countries have bought or used something that was at one point influenced by Apple products; whether it’d be that cheap 50 dollar MP3 player at Walgreen’s or Walmart’s online movie rental or hell, even WiFi at McDonald’s. I’m not saying Apple invented WiFi but they have played a HUGE role in making it easier for consumers to access and thus, influenced its demand. Was there a mobile phone before iPhone that played nicely with WiFi connections? Not to mention MP3 players and even laptops.. I’m having a difficult time thinking of one…

    I agree that Steve Jobs hasn’t really invented anything; nothing to compare to advanced warfare (in all fairness, modern warfare has progressed by company inventions, not individual inventions) or modern physics. But in the 21st century or, the information age, it’s a whole new ballgame. Steve Jobs has re-written the book on how we consume content and interact with said information. For that, I believe that Steve Jobs is a prime candidate for “Man of The Century”.

  • Steven Zahl

    Gordon Moore, pioneer of the Micro-processor is the Man.  Without which there would be no Apple, no Internet.

  • EOTC

    A great man. He will be missed

  • Chitra Sivasankar

    I will stick to Steve Jobs. Does not matter who invented or made them. Without Steve Jobs would not have given even a single thought to buy them. He is the man who inspired many. Those awesome keynotes which he made. The passion with which he displays and introduces them. Awesomest man alive. Definitely Man of the century

  • grana

    Ok, this time you’ve gone too far.
    How can you choose Steve Jobs, from a bunch of people including Alan Touring (father of electronic computer as a concept), Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Terence Tao (great mathematician, born circa 1980), Hilbert, Schrodinger, Ramanujan, etc. ?!!

  • Dave

    if you’ll extend it to 120 years I’d take James Naismith’s contribution over Steve Jobs’

  • iKolja

    Simply no.

  • Rann Xeroxx

    OK, man of the century… for consumer electronics.

  • Rann Xeroxx

    Albert Einstein was not an inventor.  He did more to totally blow away our very concepts of reality then anyone in the past 100 years. Through his discoveries, which I might add was totally just conceived in his god like skull, lead to weapons of such massive destructive power that there was (and still is) a chance that we could have wiped out life on the whole earth. 

    Steve Jobs help make shiny gadgets. Mostly just toys that if they did not exist, the world would not be much different then it is today other then we might have inferior toys.

  • Goucho1169

    exactly for consumer electronics……..

  • Goucho1169

    he might be the man of the century for consumer electronics and technology in general but I would consider social awareness leaders such as mlk to be more important and trust me i looooove steve jobs and what he has done

  • Neil Anderson

    Steve Jobs is indeed a modern day Thomas Edison.

  • albertkinng

    people please…. it says OPINION. he can post whatever he wants. if he feel Steve is better than God let him be like that, leave him alone, Steve is very important in this era, and it will be in history books in the future… he really put a dent in the universe so, respect opinions and start creating as he did.

  • Anachonin

    The genius of Steve Jobs is that he, bucking the trend, humanized technologies. Any technology, however difficult, can be invented when the time is right. The Theory of Relativity would have been discovered by another scientist even if Einstein did not first postulated it. 

    Jobs is different, he changed how people look and interact with technology. For Jobs, technology is to serve human beings instead of the other way round. His emphasis on user experience, design, functionality and technology as an integrated whole for every product Apple developed should be the pursuit of many companies from now on. Of course, not many people understand this as the most important contribution of this great man.