‘Death is very likely one of the best inventions of life’

I’m aware of the cult of mac dangers of sychophancy today… but also wanted to mark the passing of someone who did have a big impact on who are and how we live today, both positive and negative. This speech, given to Stanford graduates in 2005, is moving and prescient, but what I want to focus on this section:

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 is 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 is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

There’s something powerful about this, but also troubling. Yes, we need to see our own finitude as a motivation to make the most of the life we’ve been given, and to be the best person we can. But the troubling flip-side in Jobs’ philosophy is the culture of constant upgrade – and it’s ironic that his death comes so soon after the hyped announcement of Apple’s latest product. The iPhone4 is SO last year. I’ve heard so many people discussing whether they will get rid of their 4 in order to get their hands on a 4S in a couple of weeks…

This is absurd. Yes, we must see death as a healthy change-agent, and the old must be cleared to make way for the new. But also, and this is where Apple has been at the vanguard of the sickness of consumer capitalism, we need to re-learn how to make the most of what we have, rather than obsessively get rid of things in order to upgrade to the latest and ‘best.’

Jobs fought valiantly against cancer, against uncontrolled growth and multiplication of something healthy into something tumorous and dangerous. So as we celebrate his life and legacy, and think of his family grieving after a horrible illness, I think it’s appropriate to take a moment to think about appropriate consumption, and the gadget footprint we may be leaving in discarded phones, laptops and other devices… RIP.

(HT Barry for the great image)