I haven’t blogged here–or anywhere else–in a while, because life got in the way. The projects came (thank goodness), deliverables quadrupled, and these past few weeks have seen me wake up in a panic, thinking about the work I have to do the minute I get up, and sleeping 20 hours later, in the wee hours of the morning.
But yesterday, something happened that made me pause from the flurry of my daily life and look back for content about a great man whose life and work has touched millions all over the world.
His name is Steve Jobs, and as we all know, he passed away on Wednesday, October 5, at the ripe young age of 56.
What follows is a tribute written by my friend Jamie Bautista, a true-blue Mac fanatic, and one of the few people I know who’ve had Macs loooong before they became popular. If there was anything I needed to know about a Mac, all I had to do was ask Jamie.
And here is what he has to say about the man who has inspired his gadgets and the rest of his life.
I found out about Steve Jobs’ death while on the toilet. To paraphrase Bill Cosby, first I did it, then I said it. There I was, browsing the web on my iPad while on the throne as I usually do in the morning, when I saw the news on one of the many Apple-centric sites I frequent. Yes, I realize me going online while doing my business a pretty disturbing mental image. And you have Steve Jobs to thank for it. Because just five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to surf the web comfortably in the bathroom. There are a lot of things (majority of which are nowhere as unsettling as my example) a lot of us couldn’t have done if not for Steve Jobs and all the crazy products and innovations he’s introduced over the years. I’m sure millions of people found out about his death, as I did, on a device invented by him.
I’ve mentioned to some people that I find the last ten years to have been a strange time for a longtime Apple fanatic. Today, with the passing of the titan that is Steve Jobs, we hear hundreds of TV reports and read thousands of sites and blogs talking about how amazingly popular and powerful Apple and its products have become because of him. But this hasn’t always been the case.
I’ve been using Apple products since 1986 and have been doing so non-stop ever since. In grade school and high school, I used to get into the classic Mac vs. PC debates with several of my classmates, without anyone on my side. And it wasn’t just a case of me being the only one who could afford a Mac, as I studied in a private school with many well-to-do classmates. It was usually a matter them choosing Windows PCs because Macs didn’t have games, or were tough to program for, or didn’t have as much porn available for it. But for over ten years, I stuck with and defended the Mac because I didn’t use computers to play games (I had the Nintendo for that) nor was I interested in programming for its own sake (no comment on the issue of porn). I loved the Mac because it allowed desktop publishing, which allowed me to create. It had wonderful typefaces and fonts, which allowed me to fall in love with writing. And even though I sucked at Math and had no interest in programming or learning Basic, I was able to create my own games using Hypercard. People see me now as a tech guy, as “the friend who is good at computers”, but it wasn’t because I was into computers. I was into art and writing and design. And I had to learn how to fix my Mac when it had problems or how to upgrade it to do new things because there were hardly any Apple repair people or books around at the time. That was the thing with Apple (even though it was the John Scully days, the initial thrust of the company was still Steve’s vision): it empowered artists and creatives, while in a way forcing them to integrate the discipline of logic and science without sacrificing their souls. It wasn’t about the machines or the specs. It was about what the machines let you do. To quote one of the early Apple taglines, “It isn’t how powerful your computer is, but how powerful your computer makes you.” For those tens years, that’s what being an Apple fan meant. It was about “thinking different”. It was a badge of being more than just creative and more than just technical. Being an Mac user made you different and proud.
But when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and then introduced the new iMacs at around the same time I got my first job at a magazine, that was when Apple solidified in my mind what it meant to me. Apple represented the triumph of design. It showed people that design was just as if not more important than technical specs. Design was both how good something looked married with how well something works. It was about design as being important because it focused on people. Apple became personal. This is why Apple lost out in the 80s and early 90s to Microsoft. Those were the days when the target market of computers were corporations and offices. In the new millennium, computers were now for people. And that is where Apple, and Steve Jobs, excelled. Jobs knew that the key to any product was how it made people feel and how it let people do stuff. It wasn’t about how many gigabytes an iPod had, but how many songs it could hold. It wasn’t about how fast a laptop was, but how quickly it could let you turn in a great layout for a client, or how easy it was to carry around to the meeting with that client. Steve Jobs is credited with creating the era of the personal computer. What many of the best pundits have observed is that the “personal” part is more important than the “computer” part. Jobs’ vision is now fully realized with Macbooks and iPods and iPhones and iPads all being used in very personal ways by all kinds of people, and quite a few offices as well.
And that’s why it’s been a strange ten years, this era of Steve Jobs. Long time Apple fans like me have gone from being unique iconoclasts to that guys in the family everyone texts when their Macbooks act up. But that’s OK. Sure, we’ve lost a bit of that cool image, but that’s the price of being an early adopter. We pay a higher price now for something people will get cheaper later, so that companies like Apple can afford to make them cheaper. We test drive not only the products, but the future. And we were the ones who test drove this new world: the world as reshaped by Steve Jobs. And I personally don’t mind having done that because, aside from the privilege of having lived Steve’s vision for a full decade longer than most other people, I owe the guy quite a lot.
The reason I am able to make a living doing graphic design and writing, and why I am able to even work from home and not require an office, is largely because of Steve Jobs and his contributions to personal computing. Many of the opportunities in the future I see are also largely available because of many of the things he created. Because of him, I was inspired to choose to not become a corporate person, as someone with my grades was expected to be, but to try to make a living being a creative. I mean if Steve allowed computers to make that choice, why couldn’t I? Because of Steve Jobs, traffic is bearable with my full music library in my car. Because of Steve, my son has a computer he can use at the age of two. And as I mentioned, I have him to thank for being able to read http://www.comicbookresources.com while taking a dump. Steve Jobs made machines more artistic, and thus more human. That’s was always his vision: that computers would fulfill their purpose in the things that make us human.
That’s why it’s a different world. Apple is so popular it’s changed the game. Other companies are forced to follow in Steve’s footsteps. Design is now important to tech companies. Businesses don’t have to be large to be successful. Quality trumps cost. And while it’s tougher to be a tech company now with the standards raised, it’s a fantastic time for the rest of us. And that’s why we all feel so sad now that Steve Jobs is gone. When someone close to you dies, you often feel shaken because things from now on are going to be different. With the passing of Steve, what scares me is that the things might be changing as much anymore, or worse will go back to the way things were before.
But true to Steve’s vision, what struck me on a personal level with the news of his death wasn’t the implications for machines. It wasn’t about what would happen to Apple, or whether the iPad or iPhone would be able to evolve as well without him, or if any new revolutionary products will still come out of Cupertino. What I learned from Steve is to focus on the human side.
With his death, it made me wonder about life decisions. Here we had arguably the most influential and successful person of this generation, the head of what is one of the (if not the, at some times) most valuable company in the world, and with all that success and all that wealth and power, he couldn’t even get himself a typical human lifespan. In the last few months, as the end drew near, would he have traded all that success and wealth and his “dents in the universe” for even just an extra year with his wife and children? It made me ponder what my own answer would be if I were given such a choice. Was his failing health somehow a result or consequence of all the success and influence he’s had? Was it the proverbial deal with the devil? After all, it must have been stressful and taxing to maintain that level of performance for both himself and a whole company. Did he choose in a way to sacrifice his health to make the world better? Or was it perhaps the other way around, and did his loss of health really just come by chance and, as his Stanford address would seem to indicate, let this feeling of mortality drive him to just go on full throttle and just chase after all the possible impossible dreams? We will never know the exact answers to these questions for Steve, but I can’t help but wonder about them for my own life. And after a quarter of a century, why should I stop letting the life of Steve Jobs influence me now? It’s never steered me wrong before. He is my hero and because of that, I can’t help but wonder if I should follow his example or not. And even though he never knew I even existed, I think it’s what he would’ve wanted me to do if he had. He would’ve wanted me to focus more on what Apple inspires me to do and be, rather than just on the machines it puts out for me to use.
Good-bye, Steve. I am devastated that you’re gone. I go forward now perhaps not necessarily living life the way you did, but definitely grateful that you helped create a world where I can live the kind of life I want. It was never about how powerful you were, but really more about how powerful you made me. Thank you.