From a very insightful article about Steve Jobs' recent death, by Andy Crouch (in the Wall Street Journal):
Steve Jobs was extraordinary in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (demanding and occasionally ruthless) leader. But his most singular quality was his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple's early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and turned it into a sign of promise and progress.
That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs's many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance. The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—"cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence. And technology is most celebrated when it is most invisible—when the machinery is completely hidden, combining godlike effortlessness with blissful ignorance about the mechanisms that deliver our disburdened lives.
...Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—but technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.
Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. He believed so sincerely in the "magical, revolutionary" promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It's worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn't, say:
"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
...Mr. Jobs's final leave of absence was announced this year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And, as it happened, Mr. Jobs died on the same day as one of Dr. King's companions, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, one of the last living co-founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Dr. King, too, had had a close encounter with his own mortality when he was stabbed by a mentally ill woman at a book signing in 1958. He told that story a decade later to a rally on the night of April 3, 1968, and then turned, with unsettling foresight, to the possibility of his own early death. His words, at the beginning, could easily have been a part of Steve Jobs's commencement address:
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now."
But here Dr. King, the civic and religious leader, turned a corner that Mr. Jobs never did. "I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"
Is it possible to live a good, full, human life without that kind of hope? Steve Jobs would have said yes in a heartbeat. A convert to Zen Buddhism, he was convinced as anyone could be that this life is all there is. He hoped to put a "ding in the universe" by his own genius and vision in this life alone—and who can deny that he did?
But the rest of us, as grateful as we are for his legacy, still have to decide whether technology's promise is enough to take us to the promised land.