Safe to say most sites on the Internet will be leading with a Steve Jobs-related piece, following his death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56 yesterday. And most of those pieces will be more comprehensive and informative than this one. But I’m a firm believer in telling stories to keep the dead with us. Some of this will be familiar to those of you who read that piece I did for work about the upcoming Jobs bio, but be that as it may.
My family was the first I knew of to have its own personal computer, and definitely the first to have an Apple product. Back in those days, in that part of Canada, Commodore 64 ruled the roost. I don’t know what sort of sales spin my parents got that lead them to pick up an Apple IIC, but few items played a bigger role in my life than it did. And I remember, even at that young an age, committing the names ‘Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’ to memory, just from their inclusion on the manual for the computer.
I used that computer for over a decade. Playing Carmen Sandiego, writing essays and short stories on its primitive word processor, making posters with The Print Shop. I remember spending the better part of a day typing in hundreds of lines of BASIC, the code for a space shooter game that had appeared in some magazine. I remember it playing beautifully, I remember the pride of the accomplishment [even though I hadn’t really done anything but copy the code in], and I remember the despair when I realized I didn’t have a diskette that wasn’t copy protected, so I couldn’t save it. I was young, leave me alone.
I didn’t pay attention to much of what happened at Apple through the turn of the century. Too busy trying to meet girls on ICQ. But then the iMac hit. Then the iPod. Then the iPhone. My first iPod was a revelation [3rd Gen, the one with the click wheel but the buttons along the top]. I had to install a firewire card in my by-then ancient desktop just so I could transfer 1,800 songs onto it in under a weekend. That gen was also the only one that came with a remote, meaning I never had to pull the device out of my pocket. Four years later the lady bought me an iTouch, revolutionizing my life again. So wait, you mean I can check my email and Facebook and Twitter with this thing, wirelessly? And I can do it wherever I am, as long as I have a wifi connection?! Shut. UP!
But I was never a total fanboy. Apple’s proprietary inclination [that whole Flash thing] as well as its tendency to salt the earth of its previous products has grated on me over the years [says the guy typing this on the last of the Power PC iBooks]. But I can’t argue that Steve Jobs, and the company he cofounded and re-energized, changed the way we do so many things. So many things we take for granted now are because he had the balls to risk doing them how he believed they should be done. Windows is still lifting ideas from OSX [and not always well]. The ease of iTunes probably saved the music industry from complete annihilation [how many of us would just rather pay the dollar than try to hunt down a pirated copy of a song?].
People have a tendency to toss the word ‘innovator’ around far too flippantly, but in the case of Jobs, it’s completely accurate. I don’t see Jobs as an inventor, Apple’s strength was never in inventing new technologies, per se. What made them,and Jobs, so effective was the ability to find things that already worked well, and making them work perfectly. Apple didn’t invent the MP3, or touchscreens, or smarphones, they just figured out how to use them better than everyone else, and how to make them operate the simplest. I honestly don’t know when we might see another person like him again, or if it’s even possible for that sort of singularity of vision to exist anymore.
It’s funny, the hype has been building around this upcoming biography of him for so long now, and one of the selling points has been how cooperative Jobs was in its creation, sitting for interviews, supporting but never interfering. I commented to the lady last night that I wondered if that was because he knew how tenuous his situation was. It’s very possible.
So I throw my feeble tribute on the mountainous pile, growing by the hour, and thank the man for how much cooler his products made our lives, for being able to still fill us with that sense of excitement for the future like we had when we were children.