Only three times in my life has the death of a stranger had such a visceral, profound impact on me. The first was when I heard the John Lennon had been killed; I was ten, had just started absorbing The Beatles, and had no idea why anyone would want to kill the man. The second, Jim Henson. That one actually made me angry; why the hell did no one hold him down and make him get better!?
The third time came today, with the death of Steve Jobs.
Back in junior high, when I was learning about computer programming I learned on an Apple IIe. When I played my first computer game (Temple of Apshai), it was on that very same Apple IIe. And when I destroyed my very first floppy diskette by spilling cola on it…yup, same Apple IIe. That computer had a direct and profound effect on my early attitude towards technology and computing, which can be boiled down to, “Tech should be easy to use.” It also gave me an enthusiasm for technology that I might not otherwise have had.
Now, I wish I could say that was the start of my lifelong dedication to Apple computers. But growing up, I had to make do with the computers we could afford or were available. So my first home computer was a VIC-20, and I grew up dealing mostly with PCs. But I always enjoyed the Macs whenever I had a chance to use them, once I stopped talking to it like a PC. But owning one of my own just never happened.
But if I couldn’t own a Mac, I could follow Steve Jobs. There hasn’t been a point during the last 20+ years that I haven’t paid attention to the man. Hard not to, right? He had such energy and enthusiasm for what he was doing that, even if you somehow disagreed with him you couldn’t help but get caught up in it a bit. If computers and technology have had a voice, it has belonged to Steve Jobs.
But more than that was his optimism. Listening to him talk about the relationship between people and technology helped me believe that technology would help, not hinder; that computers and tech would be the tools that helped us be better, and that we were the most important element in technology’s development. And that was obviously popular with a great many folks; Apple products and services are inexorably linked with our computing experience. Even if you are strictly a PC user, chances are good you run iTunes or carry an iPod (I’m listening to music on iTunes right now as I type this up on my PC).
I only just found out about his passing a few hours ago, so I’m still sort of processing it. And there will be a great many tributes to the man over the next while, by people better qualified to talk about his contributions. But speaking solely as a user, as one of the people he worked to bring together with technology, I will miss Steve Jobs a lot. I know that computer development won’t grind to a halt because of his passing, but right now the tech landscape looks a little less bright.
Right now I just want to say thank-you, and goodbye. Steve, you will be missed.
Update: Wired has a great tribute to Steve Jobs that you should read. Also, I will echo the suggestion to make a donation to cancer research on his behalf. This disease is taking too many good people too soon.