I am not a normal person when it comes to “feeling things” or “reacting to sad shit.” Rather than having all of my sadness points distributed evenly–like a Mario of suffering–I’m the sort of person who cries at dog commercials but not at things like the end of summer camps. I appreciate suffering, and I’m sad when bad things happen to other people, but I am not particularly expressive except when I’m experiencing sadness through the media–This American Life stories about the Khmer Rouge, or pretty much the entirety of Up. Celebrity deaths don’t bother me, usually, except in an abstract, “I feel sorry for their families, because that’s awful,” kind of sense.
So I was really quite surprised when I was as sad as I was when Steve Jobs died. I didn’t know him, and Apple hasn’t ever hosted me at an event. Though I use a Macbook Pro, I’m not an Apple fangirl. I didn’t watch the iPhone 4S release announcement.
I’m not the only person I know who’s had this same reaction. Most of the people who I’ve talked to who aren’t tech folks still felt sad, and most of them were surprised at it. It seems inappropriate, sort of, like we feel sad about this public figure because we’re supposed to.
My friend Cameron has an interesting post up about how he thinks our sadness at Jobs’ death is related to collective guilt about expecting him to be superhuman. I don’t know how much I believe in our culpability (Jobs was always pretty private, from what I can tell), but I do think the idea of collective grief and idols is interesting. Maybe that’s why we’re sad.
Amy Winehouse’s death was sad, but she was incredibly human–we may have provoked her death (I agree with Cameron more here), but we also saw it coming. Jobs was someone who, because we never saw any real personal insight into his life even when he got cancer, did seem vaguely superhuman. He had pancreatic cancer and survived for more than five years, which considering that the five-year rate on pancreatic cancer is 4%, is kind of insane.
I still feel weird about feeling sad about Jobs’ death. But I do, if for no other reason than it means that there’s 30 years where he won’t be making cool things any more. That, if nothing else, is something to be sad about.