I felt like I wanted to write something. But, with everything else that has been said and written this week about Steve Jobs - from people who actually knew him, worked with him, covered him - the idea of chiming in with a few paragraphs of my own seemed at once superficial and presumptuous.
What could I possibly add to the rare and personal reflections of Walt Mossberg, the simple perfection of John Gruber’s grass-stained sneakers, the authentic emotion of Om, David Pogue on the innovative drive, or MG Siegler doing the math on all of us losing out on 20 more years with the ringleader of The Crazy Ones? Maybe not much. And then it occurred to me that while I never knew Steve Jobs, he knew me, really knew me, because as a consumer I was the place he started and worked backwards from in developing, designing and launching every product he ever made.
My first experience with Apple came in the late 1980s, when I graduated from college and took a job as a reporter for my hometown weekly newspaper. The machine I was given to write and file my stories on was an Apple Macintosh, and I remember it as a cute and oddly endearing little thing that was much easier to use than the IBM PC my Dad had in his office, the one I wrote high school and college papers on in MultiMate. How does a beige rectangle achieve personality? Macintosh did.
But, at the time, computers were still mainly about shades of gray and simple tasks. There was no consumer Internet, no e-mail, no digital photos or music, no advanced applications, no color. None of the things that, today, make these devices such central fixtures in our lives and increasingly personal extensions of ourselves. I left that first job, and the Macintosh that went with it, and didn’t look back.
The next 15 or so years were littered with PCs running Windows. Company-issued desktops, personal “portable” notebooks, like the Everex that probably weighed 12 pounds and was as thick as five or six of today’s MacBook Airs stacked on top of each other, a ThinkPad, “Dudes!” at some point we even got a Dell. You name it. I had strayed. Lost my way.
And then, in 2003, I bought my first iPod. I still remember opening it, and the packaging was cooler than anything I’d seen before. Steve had me before I even turned the thing on. When I got to the device itself - elegant, transformational and, yes, insanely great - I almost couldn’t believe I was allowed to own it, like I’d turned up on some list I wasn’t really supposed to be on. Steve Jobs put me on that list.
We formed an authentic emotional attachment with the products, because of what they were and what they could do, and never looked back. In the time since, we’ve undergone a total Apple conversion in our house, added MacBooks and iMacs, shipped generations of iPhones, iPads and iPods across everyone in the family. Beyond being beautiful and effortless, the things Steve and Apple made just worked. I’m not a technologist. For me, and most consumers, error-related messages and dialogue boxes are a kind of digital purgatory. You sit there, staring at the screen, lost on a road in a strange place with a car that has broken down, without a map. Steve’s cars didn’t break down, and you didn’t need a map, because he always brought one along for you.
The timing of our Apple transition could not have been more perfect. It happened as we were having kids and taking photos, shooting and editing video, listening to music together, making holiday cards and calendars, downloading movies for family vacation plane rides and long drives to see Grandma and Grandpa. More than anyone else, Steve and the company he built helped define those experiences, made them more intuitive, more satisfying, and more permanent.
I became a fan and follower, read every relevant thing I could find, watched the keynotes and wondered how one remarkable visionary could be right so often and have such a rare ability to achieve perfection in the creation of things that were typically beyond our collective imagination. The way he played the game - on his own terms - the way he led a committed team, the way the products he obsessed over made you feel.
I was in the city this week at a meeting, made a point of walking by the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue Thursday afternoon to take in the scene. His very own Strawberry Fields, one of hundreds, across the world. The glass cube was covered, I guess it’s being repaired or something, and on the white casing there was a sign reminding customers that the store was still open 24 hours a day. In a strange way, it seemed an almost ideal visual for this week. Still open. Not the same.
That was going be the only image in this post, but this morning I spontaneously stumbled on a better one. Our girls are 10 and 8, and Apple products are all they’ve ever known. We are far enough into the transition to have started passing computers down the line. As I walked by my younger daughter Ava’s room, these words rolling around my mind, I saw her enjoying a final few minutes of Webkinz before running out for a birthday party, on one of Steve’s gifts to the world.
This is the photo I’m going to end on, because - having never met Steve Jobs - I have a pretty good idea he would have uniquely appreciated having enabled this moment.
So many words this week, and now a few of my own, but it really all comes down to just a couple.