RIP Steve Jobs, who made the world more science fictional

Today Steve Jobs' death has us all reflecting on how a technology entrepreneur could have changed our lives so much, leaving us a world where we can't imagine daily life without Apple products. Partly that was because Jobs was never just a technologist. He always seemed to start with a social or cultural question, and tried to answer it with technology. That's why we have to remember Jobs not just as a technology innovator, but as a culture producer who, among other things, ran the innovative movie studio Pixar.


The video you see above was the first demo that Pixar did of its computer animation capabilities in the late 1980s. Jobs always knew computers weren't just for spreadsheets. They're toolkits for artists and entertainment boxes for people who love music and movies. In that sense, Jobs' vision for computers was very science fictional. He didn't imagine these devices as ends in themselves, but as part of our everyday lives. We'd wear them on our wrists, and slip them into our purses for a walk in the park. Computers would become part of us, and we would be part of them.

And maybe, as Apple suggested in its famous 1984 Mac ad, we'd even use computers to start revolutions.

It's fitting that Jobs' movie studio Pixar created one of the most incredible and innovative science fictional visions of the last decade: Wall-E, which was both a terrifically original story as well as a breakthrough in the use of CGI animation. It's also a fitting love letter from Jobs to the future, where humanity is rescued from obsolescence by its robotic children. In Wall-E, the only creatures left who care for the planet are the progeny of devices like the iPod, rather than humans. In fact, a team of Apple designers advised Pixar concept artists about how to make Wall-E's friend Eve more alluringly iPod-esque.

So if you're trying to sort out your perhaps mixed feelings about the man behind Apple, there's no better way than to rewatch some classic Pixar films. As critic Kyle Munkittrick once argued, many Pixar films have post-human messages in them — they embrace machine intelligence, explore non-human forms of culture, look at the domestic side of superpowers, and argue against the oppression of monsters. Whatever you think of Steve Jobs, he helped make the world a more science fictional place. The future will be a better place thanks to the work Jobs did in what has just become our past.



I stand by the minority notion that Edwin Catmull did more than anyone to make Pixar a reality. No offense, but all Jobs did was buy them and put a name on it.

I'm sad that Jobs is dead too (competition is good), but lets not go off and start posthumously giving him credit for everything under the sun.