What do Steve Jobs’s final words mean?

Steve Jobs’s last words, his sister revealed in the New York Times Sunday, were “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW,” … Continued

Steve Jobs’s last words, his sister revealed in the New York Times Sunday, were “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW,” an unexplained final phrase that many are trying to decipher today.

Was Jobs reflecting on his life while gazing at his wife, children and the space beyond them? Was he experiencing some mystical vision of heaven, a place he told biographer Walter Isaacson that he hoped existed? Or were his last words simply the final grateful ruminations of a man many see as a creative genius?

The Apple co-founder’s philosophy and spirituality have intrigued his devotees for years, and the greatest detail into his belief system to date is found in Isaacson’s recently published authorized biography of Jobs.

The book shows new parts of Jobs’s spiritual side –a worldview that Isaacson suggests affected everything from the design of his products to his thoughts of the afterlife.

Among Isaacson’s findings: Traces of the Eastern religions have made it into the pockets of millions of Westerners thanks to the “deep influence” of Zen Buddhism in the life of the late Steve Jobs.

“Steve is very much Zen . . .You see it in his whole approach of stark, minimalist aesthetics, intense focus,” said Jobs’s longtime friend Daniel Kottke in the biography.

Among the Zen influences may have been the theme of “focus and simplicity” that contributed to the CEO’s success.

Jobs became interested in Eastern religions at Reed College among a post-sixties milieu of freedom and creativity. “I came of age at a magical time,” said Jobs in the biography. Shortly after dropping out of college, he followed the footsteps of some friends – and the Beatles, of whom he was a fan – and took a trip to India to find enlightenment.

He returned from the trip a Buddhist with an appreciation for intuition and simplicity, both of which would influence his decisions at Apple. “The most Zen of all simplicities was Jobs’s decree, which astonished his colleagues, that the iPod would not have an on-off switch,” wrote Isaacson in the biography.

A Zen view of focus informed Jobs’s strategy of saying “no” to many things so that he could lavish attention on a few. It echoes the Buddhist idea of emptiness, or the idea “that a thing is defined not just by what it is, but what it is not,” suggests Jeff Yang, columnist on Asian culture. “In order to make the iPod really easy to use” Isaacson records Jobs saying, “we needed to limit what the device itself would do.”

“I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done.  Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things,” Jobs told Businessweek in 2004.

The mantra of “simplify,” Isaacson wrote, was about getting to the essence of a product. “Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service,” Jobs told Fortune Magazine in 2000.

After he was diagnosed with cancer, it was Jobs’s views on the afterlife that he said served as a major motivator. In his oft-quoted speech to Stanford University students in 2005 he said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

While he rejected his Christian upbringing at age 13, according to Isaacson’s biography, he later professed uncertainty as to whether or not God exists. “He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife,” wrote Isaacson.

I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” Isaacson records Jobs saying. “I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”

  • lwilliamson1

    Oh jeez. Is Jobs’ “Oh wow” supposed to be comparable to Charles Foster Kane’s (“Citizen Kane”) last word — “Rosebud”? I wonder will this become a mystery of a prominent mogul that the 21st century media will try to solve? Give me a break!

  • ex-Navy

    you beat me to the comment. totally agree. Maybe he found out the system being used to register newcomers at the pearly gates is windows based?

  • GOPN08

    I think God showed him that the iPad 3′s are going to have death grip issues too.

  • Dan4

    Not to be disrespectful or anything, but maybe he said, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow”. After all, dying of cancer just might be painful.

  • allknowingguy

    I agree. It sounds like he was in pain, or realized he was about to die and got scared. Totally natural.

  • egggy

    Thanks Joshua Little for this really well written, sourced story. Take care

  • egggy

    Doesn’t it depend on the context & tone – we weren’t there so why judge? Just listen to his sister: those are the words/thoughts she decided to share & she was at his bedside.

  • kt76

    Bosco!!

  • RambleOn

    No I don’t see the connection.

    “Oh wow” is a fairly general phrase, and in this case can easily be narrowed down to the likely meanings the author has suggested.

    “Rosebud” is specific to something and had no logical meaning, hence the years spent my many in that great fictional story trying (and failing) to figure out exactly what it meant.

    I do like the comparison of Jobs to Kane though. Lots of similarities.

  • ikins

    This is a completely unnecessary article. This should have been private and the media trying to squeeze just one more story out of this apparent beatification is simply embarrassing.

  • Venson_Thomas

    The “Oh wows,” are reported to have been said several hours before Jobs actually passed away. So, what counts — last thing said whenever or last words just prior the actual moment of death. Whatever the case, thank you, I’ll stick with, “Oh no.”

  • ikins

    They would be more significant if he said it just before he died, for the obvious reasons. That is what it says in the opening to the story. But having had to write and give several eulogies, you go with what you have – you’re trying to comfort people and simultaneously memorialize the person. But to be frank, I think this is pandering to the techies out there. He’s moved on, hopefully to a better place (which I believe in) and so should we. He had, as they say Down Under, a “good innings.”

  • USUAggie9698

    Well, Steve doesn’t have to wonder any more about the 50/50 chance. He now knows! Good luck Steve. See you soon! Tell everyone hello for us!

    “Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
    Alma 40:11

  • ipnews

    I do not believe those were his last words and it’s amusing that so many people soaked up this lie like a dry sponge on a wet floor. If you know anything about SJ and how he lived his life, and how he expressed himself, you would know that he would never have said that. I have no idea why his sister makes the claim, if in fact she did, but think about it – he would not have said those words. I would believe that Jesus would say them to Steve when Steve showed up in the afterlife, though. LOL!

  • naughtiusmaximus

    Hello all, Might I recommend the work of the late Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She is probably the worlds leading authority on death bed visions. She started as a athiest, but after many years working in a hospice environment, she became complete convinced that consciousness servives. She has done exhaustive studies on the topic. Also, take it from someone that has already been dead, your consciousness goes on. There is no loss of consciousness when you die, you wake up fully, like you’ve never been awake before, it’s like taking ritalin you’re so fully aware, and you suddenly “get it.”

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