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Steve Jobs, Father of Social Media

November 23, 2011

Steve Jobs’s passing has been met with a flood of assessments of his legacy. What you won’t find amidst the fond remembrance is much about Apple’s contribution to social media. After all, social media is widely seen as Apple’s Achilles heel: the one area in which Apple didn’t get it. Those who revere or fetishize the company’s magic touch with both hardware and software have often been mystified by its failure to produce a successful social media offering on the scale of Facebook, WordPress, or Twitter.

The lack of an Apple-branded social media home run should scarcely be taken as evidence that Jobs missed the boat on this key dimension of the digital revolution. On the contrary: Apple laid its foundation.

Before Apple, the computer was a workhorse, a business machine. Its contribution was defined by it military applications, its calculation capacity, and its hoped-for impact on business productivity.

The genius of Steve Jobs and Apple was in seeing beyond this limited notion of how computers could fit into our lives. It was through the Mac — and later, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad — that we discovered computers could be tools for creativity and personal expression. The discovery that a computer or phone could unleash your inner artist, channel your creative voice, or even evoke love: if you can remember the extraordinary moment you first felt that potential, the odds are good that you felt it while using a device created by Steve Jobs.

The social media revolution rests on this discovery of the creative, expressive, and emotional potential of digital technology. From the videos we create on YouTube to the haiku we post on Twitter, from the birth announcements we post on Facebook to the eulogies now pouring forth across the blogosphere, we live our creative and emotional lives online because somebody thought to give us a computer that suggested there might be something more important than a spreadsheet. Somebody gave us GarageBand and an iPod that acknowledged music as something to create and share as well as package and buy. Somebody gave us an iPhone and an iPad that showed us a digital world beyond our desks, and an offline world with a connection to our online relationships.

We live and love online because Steve Jobs saw that technology could satisfy not only our brains, but also our hearts. If many of us now have those hearts set on using social media to drive business innovation, creative abundance, environmental sustainability and social change, we can thank Steve Jobs for showing us what was possible.

Alexandra Samuel

Alexandra Samuel is the Director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the co-founder of Social Signal. Follow her on Twitter as @awsamuel.

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