Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, passed away today after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Apple released a statement hailing him as "a visionary and creative genius" whose spirit will continue to guide the company, and remembrances poured in from all corners of the Internet — an example of the instant, global connectivity that Jobs himself did so much to create.
Here at Foreign Policy, perhaps we’re most indebted to Jobs for the way that he changed how we read and relate to the news. We placed him at #17 on our 2010 Global Thinkers list, along with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, "for reinventing reading" — and that’s no exaggeration. His portable, personable devices helped spawn an industry of digitized books and magazines — including an iPad version of Foreign Policy that we launched earlier this year. He also helped make easily available books that had been difficult to find, prohibitively expensive, or prohibitively heavy to carry around: Now, you can read Edward Gibbons’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Tarif Khalidi’s Images of Muhammad on your e-reader.
Jobs also changed how we read the news. It’s hard to remember but, a generation ago, laptops regularly cost up to $6,000 and weighed around 7 pounds. And yet, even then, it was a little bit of magic — no cords, no tower. Today, though, a Macbook Air starts at $1,000 and weighs less than 2.5 pounds. That evolution has both democratized technology, and made it possible to stay connected anywhere. It is no coincidence that blue-chip media organizations like the New York Times and The Atlantic have integrated video into their websites with the advent of this new technology. And it also should come as no surprise that the original idea for restructuring information into what became RSS feeds — the most effective way to consume large quantities of news on your while on the move — came from an Apple employee.
The iPhone has allowed us to stay connected to e-mail at all times — for better or worse. It has even revolutionized war photography: FP was lucky enough to publish photos from Afghanistan that were taken with an iPhone using the Hipstamatic app, and another iPhone photo essay showing life in Brazil’s favelas.
The portability and connectivity of Jobs’s products also made them a superb tool to watch international news, and connect with people abroad. Al Jazeera English may be blacked out in most of the United States, but American viewers can watch it with a click of the button on their iPad or iPhone. And the Skype app on my iPad has allowed me to connect with people in Syria and Jordan who are leery of government-monitored phone lines.
Steve Jobs accomplished nothing less than a radical transformation of how we stay informed, allowing us to consume information at a speed and in detail never before possible. Rest in peace.