Here we are, stuck in an era of chronic joblessness, and we lose the most important one of all: A guy named Steve.
Millions of us learned of his death on user-pleasing machines his company designed, the machines his spirit inhabited. Now he’s gone, but the spirit lives on in the iPhone I use to connect with family and friends (OK, workmates too), in the iPad I read while eating my oatmeal breakfast every morning, in the cheery greeting my MacBook Pro gives me when I sign in for yet another workday.
But what is that Jobs spirit exactly?
My Apple-crazy son Jake, born in 1990, never lived in a Jobs-less world. I did. I can remember a trip I took to Bermuda with my soon-to-be fiancé in 1986. I was working on a novel at the time, so I brought my “portable” Kaypro with me to keep the words flowing. This proto-laptop looked like it fell to earth—with a giant thud—from a satellite built by the Soviet industrial complex. Sure it was high tech, but it weighed 40 pounds, and the type glowed nuclear orange on a tiny screen. No wonder I never finished that novel.
The pain here: I could have had an Apple. I was well aware of the revolution going on. The coolest people I knew were totally into Jobs’ first offerings. But I was locked into a mentality—it still persists today—that technology had to be ugly and difficult; that was part of the thrill of mastering it.
If it didn’t intimidate, how good could it be, really?
I’m sure Steve Jobs had a Kaypro at that time, if only to figure out why it was the “it” technology of the late 80s. And I can imagine that once he had it taken apart on his workbench, he would have quickly identified what was missing: there was no love in it.
Isn’t that the surprise we find as we root through Mac packaging, the killer app that’s missing nearly everywhere else in the technological world? Engineers can amp up speed and enable screens and shrink component sizes, but in the end all they have are differently configured machines. Until the Mac appeared, machines had no soul, so they were and are doomed to that “otherness” that alienated me from generations of computers. They were mechanized, electrified junk almost by the time I pulled them out of the packing peanuts. Nobody was a Kaypro person; Mac products define my son’s life, in some magical way.
When I stood in line at the Apple store on a cold morning last March and waited in anticipation of finally buying my iPad2 (I’d tried and failed twice before), it felt like I was beginning a new, exciting relationship. When an Apple store employee named Mike—an older guy, kindly—ran me through the basics, it was if he were making an introduction and sharing an enthusiasm, not just showing me the on-off switch. And the iPad2 did in fact change my life—helping me reconnect with literature during my insomniac periods (I recently read Dickens’ Hard Times in wakeful bouts between 2:30 and 4 a.m.), helping me cook dinner (propped up on the bookstand in the kitchen), and allowing me to be an all-knowing couch-bound interlocutor with my wife (she asks a million questions). Now I have answers, because my iPad2 feels like it’s part of my brain.
Where does Steve fit in here?
I think of him as my personal ambassador into a high-tech world—the one guy who never forgot that tech isn’t about technology, it’s about the experience of the person who’s using that technology. In my travels, I’ve encountered old codgers out working in farm fields, and noticed a relationship between their gnarled hands and the hoe they’re using, between a beaten down truck and their own worn and comfortable bodies. When I hold my iPhone or iPad in my hands, it becomes an intuitive part of me. It increases my capabilities, my pleasure in living. I’m a better guy when live up to the utility, design, and soul of my favorite tools.
Steve Jobs employed a lot of smart people, and they came up with a million innovations that went into the machines that carry me through the day. But Steve himself insisted that there be a beating human heart among the processors, that the machine would launch a relationship along with its programs.
And now, one part of that relationship is over. The mortal plug strained at the wall, and pulled out of the connector in his heart. I worry about a world without Steve Jobs: his intuition about how millions of us wish to live is so rare, and fragile. And so human.
Around the office right now, we’re preparing our apps and iPad editions for the rollout of Apple’s iOS5, which will help us make new connections with MH guys. And those will be human connections, not a computer-generated ones.