The mind’s eye can be trapped by the body’s lack of a voice

We live in a jaded world where we tend to assume the worst before giving people and even companies the benefit of the doubt, in terms of their desire to make a positive difference. I personally think that one of the best advertisements that I have ever seen, is the one in which great historical characters are presented one after the other  on the screen with a voiceover that reminds us that “the crazy ones” are usually the only ones crazy enough to change the world. This advertisement was called “Think Different” and formed the foundation of Apple’s mindset under the leadership of Steve Jobs.

I want to make it clear that I do not deify Steve Jobs. He was very human with his human faults. And it seems that geniuses tend to have more perceived faults that others. I cannot speak to the person that Steve Jobs was, because the four movies that have already been made about him, along with multiple documentaries that supposedly told the truth, will never give you an insight into his true mind and emotions. And it is simply far too easy  to judge people based on stories and fables. So I will simply say that the effect of having him in this world was tremendous, and it still is being felt today.

I just saw a new short film from Apple that presents an autistic teen who was given his voice via the use of an iPad and special software. The moment that this incredible young man is given a mechanism for expressing himself in an alternate way to his own speech, he suddenly comes alive as a person with deep thoughts and emotions and a brilliant view of the world.

The horribly insulting term “idiot savant” has been used in the past to identify individuals who appear to be incapable of any normal human interaction yet are masters at music, painting, mathematics and the like. The use of the term “idiot” should be reflective of the “brilliant” physicians and psychologists that cared for these individuals.

It was these professionals who were idiots in that they could not break the code for finding a way to communicate with these genius young people. Such autistic individuals were seen as freak shows who happened to be able to perform a particular task very well, and could be displayed to the world as fascinating anomalies. In fact, these individuals were most likely generally brilliant, but no one had the tools or skills for helping them express themselves in an intelligible way to the average person.

There is no question that this short film from Apple brings tears to one’s eyes. But that should not be its intent. And with all due respect to Apple, the intention should also not be to sell more iPads. When I look at an ad like this, the first thing that goes through my mind is how to reformat the technology, and miniaturize it, so that it can be worn at all times and thus be a true translator from the language of the autist to the language that average human beings can understand.

While having the iPad is definitely  an excellent interim solution, we should always continue to embrace Steve Jobs view of thinking differently.  When you see a solution in its most basic form, the first thing you should do is be thinking of the next step and how it can further revolutionize the lives of so many.

I don’t know the exact number of severely autistic individuals in the world. I don’t know how many special translator devices would sell, if they were created.  But here I go again, as the ever hopeful socialist, who looks at Apple and thinks that they have more money than G-d. I think Apple can take the risk of designing something that appears to have a small user base, and thus a small chance of recouping its investment.

For those who disagree, all I can say is that when we all lie on our deathbeds, do we really think about the return on investment that we got from a random stock option, or do we try to remember the effect we had on people during our lives. And for those who can’t think of anything positive, that is their entry into their personal hell.

I have noted in the past that Judaism’s view on the ultimate goal of people in this world is to fix those things that G-d has left unfinished. I’m not a big fan of this whole concept, for the very simple reason that people suffer until we discover that fix. How many people died from polio until a vaccine was discovered that fixed the problem. But who am I to question the ways of G-d, even when they appear to be ridiculously stupid to my petty little mind. I guess you just have to have faith that we are on the right track. Of course, I’ve never seen anyone cured of polio by faith.  But I digress.

There are far too many people who are struggling to pay their basic bills and I would be more than happy to see this situation rectified. At least, and this is a big “at least”, Israel is a country that covers the overwhelming majority of health care costs and keeps university costs to a minimum. Certain foods are kept under watch so that their prices do not rise to highly.  In place of a pack of cigarettes,  a parent or parents can buy eggs and bread and milk and even chicken for their families. Once upon a time, not that long ago, this kind of food was thought to be that of only the upper echelons. In any case, of such people, I appreciate that they do not have the funds for anything other than the basics.

But for those people who don’t struggle, and have the extra funds, invest. I’m not saying to deny yourselves any grand pleasures or to sell your Prius for a fourth hand Volkswagen beetle. What I am saying is that you have the unique  opportunity to contribute to the future of people and this entire world. Perhaps your contribution will be time.

For myself, I offer my services as a consultant for free to multiple startups. I have a simple formula – if they ever end up making money, I ask that they give me some. I make no stipulations as to the amount, and my contribution in time is not measured by any calculation of possible return on investment.

I am even involved in projects where I purposely have my name excluded from the contributors. We live in a silly world where some people would sacrifice the benefit of the general public for their own egos. Therefore, I eliminate any such possible issue by simply not having myself recognized as part of the team. The endpoint is the welfare of the patients. I am tremendously lucky that I can pay my bills and feed my family from other sources of income. As my father used to say, anything beyond this is just icing on the cake.

Think Different. Act different. Be different. Leave your mark on this world not as a plaque on a building, but as a memory in the hearts of people that you helped. What else is there, really?

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.