- - Sunday, October 9, 2011


The genius of Steve Jobs was the genius of a kitchen toaster.

Following his death Wednesday, the Apple co-founder and CEO was lauded as a technological seer, a marketing maestro and a cultural icon - a man who showed us the digital future, then delivered it to our desktops, laps and pockets.

More than once, Jobs was likened to a prophet - or maybe just a magician, albeit one in mom jeans and a black turtleneck - for giving us what we wanted before we knew we wanted it.

Only that assessment isn’t quite accurate.

A small, sleek music player. A cellphone-cum-computer. A touch-screen media tablet. These things were new. But the human needs and desires they answered?

Anything but.

Such was the real genius of Jobs: He never lost sight of what people always have wanted in the first place.

Again, consider the average kitchen toaster.

A toaster could come equipped with a thermometer. It could have a window on the side, the better to see just how brown one’s bread has become at any given moment. It could have a host of different buttons for bagels, wheat bread, English muffins, or built-in butter and jelly dispensers, like the soap shooters in a car wash.

A toaster has none of these things.

A toaster has a single button. You press it. In goes bread. Out comes toast. Because a toaster isn’t about the physical and chemical process of cooking bread. Nor is it about the engineering puzzle of linking household electrical current to a heating element to a spring-loaded timer. A toaster isn’t about being a toaster at all.

A toaster is about eating. About feeling hungry, and then feeling satiated.

This is what Jobs grasped, intuitively. This is what made him a technology savant.

From campfires to toasters to French toast recipes downloaded and displayed on an iPad, technological advances have never been - and will never be, unless Skynet from “The Terminator” becomes self-aware - ends in themselves. The latest, greatest gizmos, the new new things, are still simply tools - instrumental goods that facilitate our wants and needs.

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