x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Success of dropout Steve Jobs poses dilemma for students

The late Apple chief was an inspiration to us all - not least those looking for an excuse not to go to college.

Not many teenagers care much for world news. Raging wars, famines, politics, market shares, the affairs of world leaders ... all of these are far-away events that apparently don't affect us - although sport sections and celebrity gossip are not as easily discarded.

What did affect us recently, however, was the death of Steve Jobs. He wasn't a random businessman belonging to an unexciting grown-up world where their idea of a fun night out is talking stocks over dinner. When a guy's gone to the trouble of setting up Pixar and creating the Toy Story films, you sit up and take notice. When that guy brings computers to the masses, allowing us to surf the internet idly on the pretext of doing homework, you sit up a little bit straighter. And then, when that guy brings us a device that you can pop into your ears to block out the grown-ups' whingeing, you award him the label of "not a bad bloke at all", which is the nicest title teenagers can think of, and be bothered, to confer on you.

I counted a minimum of 24 Facebook statuses on my news feed telling him to rest in peace when he died. Our priorities are as clear as the best-quality Swarovski crystal there is: we aren't concerned about how countries are run. We are concerned about the future of our beloved iPods.

After Jobs's death, all of a sudden, his 2005 commencement speech to a batch of Stanford graduates has found itself in the limelight. I YouTubed it simply because everyone was talking about it. For a college dropout, he's done a pretty impressive job.

We are all a little more than struck by the Hollywood eligibility of his life story: adopted by a couple who promised his mother they would send him to college; went to college; dropped out; went on to co-found one of the most successful companies in the world; revolutionised technology; coaxed goodbye statuses on his death from most likely millions of Facebooking teenagers who'd never met him. What I'm getting at here is that you don't need university to do well in life. The Microsoft founder Bill Gates, too, was a dropout, and people like him and Jobs and have done well in life by anyone's definition.

Jobs's parting line is one of the most famous quotes of this generation: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." We teenagers are admittedly always the former, and, according to some, also always the latter in the literal sense of the words.

However, as impressionable adolescents, we don't usually follow the advice he actually meant to give us. We don't particularly want to stay curious and hungry for knowledge; most of us just want to get to university, get a job and then retire in the Maldives or somewhere nice. If one of the most influential men of the 21st century didn't feel the need to squander his parents' savings on college, though, why should the rest of us?

I have just read the latest book by the best-selling Indian author Chetan Bhagat, called Revolution 2020, and it's one of those plots where you can't stop shaking your head at the irony of life. The poor kid doesn't get into the best college in the country, IIT, despite his father taking a loan for coaching classes, stressing out big time and finally, in a strange turn of events, dying in exasperation. The kid learns instead the art of bribery and corruption, ending up rich and getting the girl. The idealistic bright kid, who does get into the most prestigious university around and gets his face in the newspaper for it, tries to change the world for the better and goes broke.

Does that confirm that slogging away at your desk doesn't pay after all? Following in Jobs's footsteps and giving the security of higher education a miss isn't an easy decision. It could lead to fame, glory and riches - or to the dole. What happened after Jobs dropped out is inscribed in indelible ink on the pages of history, but his story is the exception, not the rule. Is university worth the money, the effort and the peace of mind? The question remains unanswered, so I'll just shut down my Mac now and download a song or two on my iPod, the most fitting tribute I can think of.


The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai.

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