I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website. I’ll link to that when it goes up. In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s genius.
It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S. Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones. People were looking for matters of appearance. But look at the reality of what this new device can do:
The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.
That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.
Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.
If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.
Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:
Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”
Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”
Me: “Change the time.”
Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”
After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.
More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.
It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace. Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success. Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of. He led the marketplace.
There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact. Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much. Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs. Don’t just imitate the dominant styles. Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant. Don’t follow the culture. Lead it.
This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.