Editor's Note: This column was originally published on Aug. 11, 2007 under the headline: Is Apple's Steve Jobs the Thomas Edison of Our Era? He is, and always will be.
For those under the age of ... well, let's just say for those who recently graduated from college, Thomas Edison was a revolutionary U.S.-based inventor, scientist, and businessperson whose many inventions transformed life, and helped us live as we do today in the modern/postmodern era.
Edison's most important and life style-altering invention? He invented a long-lasting, practical light bulb, based on the remarkable improvements he made with incandescent light.
Edison also greatly influenced the infrastructure for electricity, commonly known today as the electric grid.
Oh, and he invented the movie camera. And devices for recording sound. And the Phonograph.
Is Steve Jobs in the category of a Thomas Edison? You bet.
The Mac, iPod
Jobs' invention of the Apple Mac computer and operating system is enough to put him in the exemplar class, which is a fancy way of saying he is a leader in his field.
But then in January 2001 came the iPod, which helped speed the digitization of and portablization of music.
Sure, it was easy to categorize the iPod as a play thing for the younger crowd, but it quickly became a music device favorite among the not-so-young-crowd, too, and its iTunes store surged to stellar levels of success.
Jobs' next invention/project, the iPhone smartphone, released in June 2007, left no doubt about his unique status. Greeted with skepticism in many circles, the iPhone has become the leader in multi-media enabled smartphones and an app (short for software application) winner: it greatly expanded mobile technology use across society.
The iPad: How Did We Live Without It?
The above inventions are more than enough for one lifetime, but of course Jobs' next invention, the iPad, would further cement his status as a transformative figure of our time. The iPad has brought us that much closer to the anything, everywhere era.
When you live in the metro New York City area, odds are you take a commuter train to get home to suburbs in Westchester County, N.Y., Long Island, N.Y., Connecticut, or New Jersey. Or should one call these trains iPad trains -- the iPad is everywhere.
Gray-haired executives send memos to staff after evaluating business reports on them, while others work on spreadsheets, and still others watch a TV show they couldn't catch the night before because it was originally broadcast after their bedtime.
As noted, the iPad, like so the other inventions, shows Jobs' ability to invent things we didn't know we needed, until he introduced it. After that point, we wonder, as Bloomberg Radio's Ken Prewitt so accurately put it, How did we ever live without the thing?
To be sure, the United States from 2001-2008 had a rough decade -- a period filled with many policy mistakes, both domestic and foreign -- the likes of which it may take the United States 20 years (or longer) to fully recover from. Further, many emerging market economies are currently growing at a faster rate than the U.S., offering opportunities for bigger profits, among other impressive benefits.
But unlike the other economies/markets, the United States, strong economy or not-so-strong, has always had Steve Jobs.
As they say in Hebrew, May he live to 120 years.