The year was 1992 (or was it 1993?). I was five. Ish. My parents had just bought my brother’s first computer. I know it was a Mac, but I have no idea which one. After helping my mom set it up, I was allowed to use it.
Now, with most tech-people that I’m familiar with, the story goes, “Then I knew that I wanted to work with Macs for the rest of my life,” or some other variation. Not me. I went through elementary and middle school working on Macs while in the school building, but after that first Mac in our house, we went to the Dark Side (i.e., Windows). Those were the years when Apple was in trouble, before Steve Jobs came back to the company he built from scratch with Steve Wozniak and lifted it out of certain doom. Several years after I inherited the Mac from my brother, I was given a Compaq Presario. Then a Dell. It was only when the Dell, right after its three year warranty expired when I was 16, gave out on me and I spent seven hours on the phone with tech support in India that I turned to Apple. And that was only because my photography teacher, Jason Prunty, told me not to get an HP laptop. Sure, I had an iPod and it was pretty excellent, but did I really want to give up on Windows?
If you know me at all, or have read anything I’ve written for this site, you know what that answer is. But in 2003, I still wasn’t sure. After hearing positive things from Jason and then from my second grade computer teacher, Loretta Radice, I got a 12” PowerBook G4. That’s when I knew I wanted to use Macs for the rest of my life. But even though I was a fledgling Apple fan girl, I knew nothing of the man behind it all. That didn’t happen until college.
Stick with me through the next bit. It makes sense, I promise.
Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, delves into the lives of the outliers of society, those who have succeeded beyond us peons, to analyze why it was they who achieved so much. Two of Gladwell’s points are that the year you were born is immeasurably important and having 10,000 hours of experience is the golden number to make an expert.** It’s no surprise, then, that in a book about success there is a section devoted to technology and the founding of the PC-era, which, of course, includes Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They were both born in 1955 and had 10,000 hours of programming experience by the time they began their computer companies (Microsoft and Apple Computer, respectively). That’s where the similarities end.
Steven Paul Jobs, who died on October 5th, was one of the world’s most legendary visionaries, a man who’s mind was incomparable to other technology executives. Sure, he and his team invented the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but what most people don’t see is how profoundly he affected our culture along with almost every industry. Before 2001, nobody wanted an mp3 player. People were still using CDs or illegally downloading music. When Jobs introduced the first iPod that year, many had never considered that the ability to carry “your entire music library in your pocket” (at the time, 1000 songs) would be possible. He single-handedly saved a dying music industry with iTunes and the iPod***.
Before 2007, smartphones were clunky, slow, and annoying. They were PDAs (remember those?) with phones inside. After the iPhone, styli vanished, user interfaces improved, and multi-touch^ became the norm.
And don’t even get me started on tablets before the iPad. Steve Jobs is responsible for all of this. Sure, he was a megalomaniac, obsessed with details, and could be tyrannical when he had his mind set on something, but if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have changed the world.
As with any competitive business, Apple has many adversaries: Google, with a rival smartphone operating system (Android); Samsung, who is suing and getting countersued all over the world; Facebook, which is kind of a long story; and what seems like every other phone, computer, and tablet maker. But while business must continue as usual, each and every one of those companies has taken time to release statements thanking Steve Jobs for his contributions to their world^^. Samsung and Google even cancelled their October 11th event out of respect. And while Apple didn’t postpone the release of the new iPhone, there was a conspicuously empty seat marked “Reserved” at the keynote event hosted the day before his death. Now that’s classy.
I think the reason the world is so shocked and saddened is because it feels like Steve Jobs wasn’t done. He wasn’t done with his family, he wasn’t done with his company, and he wasn’t done with his life. He always had “just one more thing” at his keynote presentations, and there will never again be “just one more thing” from Steve Jobs. Jon Stewart summed it up the best: “… For him to die young … it seems so strange because other people of his magnitude like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, you [get the feeling that] we wrung everything out of them [because] they were old … But with Steve Jobs [it's] like ‘AH! We’re not done with you yet!’ and [there] was this sense [of] … so what are we supposed to do now? What’s next?” What’s next indeed. All I know is, I will continue to love Apple: I will work on my MacBook Pro and buy a new one when the time comes; I will text my friends on my iPhone while eagerly waiting for the new one; and I will use my iPad 2 to voraciously consume rumors about the iPad 3. Thanks, Steve.
A special thank-you to Charis Tsevis for permitting the use of his awesome, iconic Steve Jobs collage for this article. To check out his work, which has appeared in magazines around the world, go to his website www.tsevis.com. It’s pretty epic.
* Steve Jobs once said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.”
** It makes more sense if you just read the book. Click to buy on Amazon.
*** … and, in 2003, the iTunes Music Store.
^ The ability to use more than one finger on the screen.
^^ I can’t even begin to list all the companies and technology glitterati that have paid tribute. Some of the non-tech have made statements as well, including President Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart.