Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jobs vs Gates Reconsidered

Hooray for the hippie, but hats off to the nerd.

By Nick Paleologos
April 30, 2014

I’ve been an Apple Guy ever since 1991 when I was first smitten by that beautiful little box called the MacIntosh. When it’s creator, Steve Jobs, succumbed to cancer back in the fall of 2011--like millions of others--I became obsessed with retracing every step of his extraordinary life.

In 1995, before there was an iPhone, or iPad, or iPod, Steve Jobs was asked whether he considered himself a hippie or a nerd. Without hesitation he answered hippie. Imagine that. At his core, this giant of American industry—volatile, impatient, mercurial, charming, arrogant and visionary—considered himself an artist above all else.

Steve Jobs defined his own persona for all time in a famous 1997 commercial which he wrote and narrated himself. Crazy. Misfit. Rebel. Troublemaker. Not fond of rules. No respect for the status quo. The bad boy with the big ideas. Seriously, what’s not to love?

By the same token, I never much cared for that other fella--the bespectacled nerd with the pocket protector full of pencils. Did I mention he also happens to be the richest guy in the world? Yeah, that too. His software? Clunky. His products? Boring. His personality? Blah. The best I could ever muster for the planet’s biggest billionaire was a Bronx cheer.

That is, until now. Life is funny isn’t it? In due time, few will ever remember how Microsoft founder Bill Gates made his fortune. What will be truly unforgettable is the extraordinary way that he spent it.

Last week, the soft-spoken philanthropist sat down with NPR’s David Green to talk about malaria in sub-Saharan Africa—of all things. You see, in today’s Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria. It is the leading cause of death there, and in many other developing countries as well. 

But as Gates was speaking, you could almost hear the keystrokes clicking as he put that excel sheet--which is his brain—to work on behalf of the greater good of humanity.

“We have a lot of interventions where we're saving lives for less than $2,000 per life saved. By making sure new vaccines are invented, making sure they get out to all the kids on the planet, we're taking diarrheal deaths, pneumonia deaths, and bringing those down pretty dramatically. And any country where we can save a life for a few thousand dollars, we'll do it. It turns out that the place you can really make dramatic reductions in the number of children who die is in the very poor countries.”

Let’s see, if we could save a couple of million kids’ lives…at a couple of grand a pop…well, you get the picture.

Just to prove the point--and without any fanfare, or fancy commercials--the decidedly un-cool Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already dumped $1.8 billion into eradicating another child-killer, polio. How’s he doing? Last year there were only 400 cases of polio—in the entire world.

This year?

“In Nigeria,” Gates says, “we've had only one case--which is way down from last year.”

Apparently, if the Taliban would stop killing vaccinators in Pakistan, polio—with a big assist from Gates--could be consigned to the dustbin of history in less than 3 years. All of which makes me think its time for a new take on an old commercial:

Here’s to the quiet ones.
The contributors. The researchers. The volunteers.
The fearless folks on the front lines.
The ones who see things we don’t and do something about it.
They’re not fond of injustice.
And they have no respect for inaction.
We don’t hear from them, or glorify them.
But we have to respect them. Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
While some may see them as the quiet ones, we see nobility of spirit.
Because the people who are quietly committed to changing the world…are the ones who do.

Alas, with apologies to the hippie, my hat’s off to the nerd.