Steve Jobs died well over a year ago, but his final words, as reported by those close to him, "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow," continue to resonate as the world sits on the precipice of a new year.
Only Jobs, of course, knows what he truly meant, But the man who had so many visions of how to make things more convenient in life may well have had a glimpse into a world after death that is more brilliant and promising.
Regardless of how troubled 2012 may have seemed at times, that sort of optimism ought to be the guiding light to the future. The year was dominated by politics, often in its nastiest form, and ended with voters providing little clarity as to how to answer tough public-policy questions. It featured a "Mormon moment" that was a mixture of genuine interest and mockery as exhibited by a Broadway musical. Of the top 10 stories as decided by the Associated Press, most were negative and downright depressing, from mass shootings to a deadly attack at a U.S. consulate in Libya to brutal crackdowns of rebellion in Syria to hurricanes, the fiscal cliff and the sexual abuse of young boys by a football coach at Penn State.
By definition, news is the exceptional, the unusual or the dramatic, and so headlines tend to focus on things that make people uneasy. The problem with this is that the world tends to overlook the things that truly count until they look back years later with the benefit of perfect hindsight.
It is instructive, for instance, that major newspapers, including this one, completely excluded the Wright Brothers in their end-of-the-year editorials in 1903. In 1975, no news organization touted the new company formed by two young partners, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, as a story of the year, but Microsoft went on to revolutionize the world. So did Jobs' Apple, which he founded at about the same time in a garage, along with partner Steve Wozniak.
Thus three of the biggest stories of the last century took place in obscurity while the world was focused on other things. People tend to be blinded by hidden assumptions and personal preoccupations.
There were plenty of positive stories in 2012. A private company launched an orbiting mission to the space station for the first time, and NASA landed a sophisticated unmanned craft on Mars, greatly expanding human knowledge. Genetics research climbed new heights as scientists succeeded in using blood and saliva samples from parents to construct the near-total genome sequence of an unborn fetus. Such discoveries may soon lead to the understanding and eradication of many diseases.
Tonight and tomorrow, a lot of people will pause to reflect on their lives and peer forward through the fog of time not yet spent. They will set resolutions and goals, and some will make bold predictions. People seldom get those right, and yet goals and predictions are important. They point the world in the direction its current inhabitants would like to go. They articulate dreams as well as values, and they serve as a good barometer of a collective optimism. They say much about who people really are.
Judging by history, the biggest stories of 2012 may not be understood for years, but they will come to light through hard work, vision, faith and hope. As Jobs seemed to demonstrate in his last moments, the rewards of those virtues never truly cease.