Steve Jobs, a Tribute

The love affair started with a Mac much like this one.

When Steve Jobs announced last week that he is leaving Apple, I felt a stab of grief. Part of it is the sadness we all feel, losing the visionary who pulled marvelous rabbits out of the drab beige box of computing, and part of it is personal. My relationship with Steve and his creations goes all the way back to high school.

Steve Jobs and his co-founder at Apple, Steve Wozniak, both attended Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. Fifteen years later, so did I. Their names were first mentioned in the newsroom of The Epitaph, our school paper, because the two entrepreneurs had given us a computer. It sat in a closet and at first no one touched it. After all, we were busy assembling the paper by hand — cutting out the headlines, bylines, and text of stories with X-Acto knives, arranging them on boards of plywood with rulers, and affixing everything in place with wax rollers. Who had time for a computer?

But this nerdy guy on staff, Eric Ly, hunched over the glowing screen playing around with a program called PageMaker. After a little practice, he could complete a page in a fraction of the time that we could, and by the end of the year every page was being assembled by Eric and churned out on our snazzy new laser printer. Steve Jobs had shanghaied us into doing some of the world’s first desktop publishing.

Steve's first appearance on the cover of Time. Source: mac-history.net

About the same time my family replaced its electric typewriter with a Mac Plus. (Imagine, one computing device for a whole family.) We got our mouths around terms like “font” and “dropdown menu.” We learned that a “mouse” signified something other than a rodent and an “icon” something other than a person. One night I was finishing a big term paper for English class when I was visited by the dreaded “bomb” icon. The computer crashed and I had to suffer through an all-nighter to rewrite the paper. I’ve almost forgiven you for that, Steve.

When I went away to college I brought along a Mac II and covered it with In-n-Out and “Dukakis for President” stickers. I loved that machine. Many years later, after floppy disks had long since flopped, I reluctantly brought it to a computer recycling center in San Rafael. The recycling guy, a tower of junked electronics piled up behind him, turned my Mac in his hands and regarded it affectionately. “Aw, it’s so cute,” he said. “Are you sure you want to get rid of it?”

I put it back in the car. He was right, it was too cute to get rid of.

Then came the onslaught of the “i” products: iMac, iTunes, iPod, iTouch, iPhone, iPad, each more sleek and impressive than the last. Steve had cracked the code and made computing fun for the masses. Steve himself became the icon, donning the jeans and mock black turtleneck that made him as spare and instantly recognizable as his gadgets. The hits were wondrous indeed — but at the same time they elicited in me just the tiniest of shrugs.

They felt like candy, these new toys. We the Mac faithful had learned the beauty of Apple’s devices in the 1980s and clung on through the dark 1990s, during Steve’s exile from Apple and during those years when the PC crowd was seized by a puzzling excitement about Windows. And now the world was clamoring for the Steve aesthetic and the new converts lined up outside the Apple stores like children, children who needed to be entreated with something small and shiny.

Steve's latest appearance on the cover of Time. Credit: mac-history.net

But I should get off my high horse because I am as seduced by an iPhone as anyone else. I cradle its smooth shell in my palm like a toy. There are many machines and gadgets I use every day, but none of them emerge from a singular vision like those from Apple. None have the staying power, or have created a fraction of the enjoyment, as the machines that Steve has been dreaming up for thirty years now. Thank you for all you’ve created for us, Steve. You may have graduated, but we hope you’ll come to visit for many years to come.

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