A lot of ink will get spilled over the passing of Steve Jobs over the next 72 hours. And it'll all be deserved.
The man was as near an Edison as we were likely to see in our lifetimes, the personality and face which didn't necessarily do the heavy lifting back at the lab, but whose clear vision and ability to reach people where they lived made it possible for Jobs to push technology in bold and daring new directions, and ask the competition to keep up. Like Edison, I'm sure Jobs had his Teslas, but I don't have any interest today in dwelling on the man's foibles or issues.
What I can remember is standing in a strip mall store with my parents and brother and then bringing home an Apple IIe that changed our household and within a couple of years, the classroom full of Apples in middle school. And then the first Macs with the flying toasters. But let's not kid ourselves. It was the sleek Macs that came after the candy colored iMacs, those wildly powerful things in white and black casings. Then the Scandanavian design of Mac product circa 2001.
The iPod suddenly made those piles of cheap discsman players you were constantly battling with utterly obsolete when it landed, and then Apple changed the media distribution model from the scummy BS of Napster to the legal and oh-so-Apple world of iTunes. The iPhone stretching out your capabilities beyond the tri-corder and communicators of Star Trek with their sleek faces, and "Jesus, how did they do that?" interfaces and designs that you couldn't believe, and as if they knew how your mind sifted through information better than you, yourself.
Steve Jobs did little to dispel the supervillain mystique around him. Cult-like media days with all the fervor of tent revival, and true-believers and acolytes ready with furious words if you were a low-rent PC user like myself and had a few questions before you were willing to spend that much more to kick email around. And he found new ways for us to tithe, with newer and better devices, like alien technology he had amassed and was slowly dealing out in waves, providing the certainty of insta-cred cool mixed with absolute utility, as long as you were willing to admit you'd find the device near worthless the minute the next generation (or half-generation) hit the stores.
Hell, you'd camp out for it, right? That was funny and not weird or obsessive at all, right? Right?
He wasn't a charlatan, because Jobs delivered on his promises. His mere appearance before a large screen with fingers tented meant those strange, wonderful, alien gifts from the Apple mother-ship would soon appear, and they would just work. Somehow he convinced a nation that the dweebs behind the counter who were never quite as good as they should have been, but nowhere near as hideously incompetent as box store employees should be called "geniuses", and somehow nobody ever punched Jobs in the face for the sheer audacity and ballsiness of such a move.
I don't use a Mac. I use a Dell laptop that generates about 5 billion joules of heat whenever I run Firefox instead of Chrome. Me and Steve... I never could quite get myself to spend the money on a Lexus when a Toyota would get me where I needed to go.
But for this, I borrowed Jamie's MacBook Pro. I figured it'd be right, and easier than writing this out on an iPhone.
I heard Steve Jobs had died while listening to the radio at almost exactly 7:00 as I was pulling into the driveway, and it hit me infinitely harder than I would have guessed, which was not at all. I might have not always loved Apple or Jobs or, really, the culture that Jobs cultivated amongst those who could afford the products (and surely there's a an unpublished Philip K. Dick novel exactly about a near-papal being who dispenses technology as the new opiate and breeds an army of loyal followers), but the man's mind and drive for relentless improvement and better living... we'd all be crashing our cars into medians trying to work the menus on our Zunes right now, or else messing with those polyfoam CD cases, I guess...
Someone else will come along, sooner or later. But it won't be one of these CEO's that gets hired, Meg Whitman-like, to the comapny, nor the Woz's out there... it's going to take the rarity of the woman or man who is an Edison, who brings out the best, even when that same drive can make them sometimes something other than just a person.
56. Imagine what another 20 years would have looked like.
This was no MS Billionaire running off with his money to buy basketball teams or fund doomed science projects that might fulfill boyhood fantasies of space travel. Can you imagine him walking away? I can't.
I'll miss Steve Jobs, but I hope Apple doesn't find themselves missing him too much. Churches can fall without the founders. And while surely the fire Jobs brought to the place will course through its veins for a while, sooner or later, leadership will want to "move on" while still invoking Jobs' name.