A Somewhat Rambling Ode to Steve Jobs.

5 Oct

I knew Steve Jobs resigned in August for health issues, but I had no idea he was cutting it this close. The news that he died shocked me.

At first, I was sad that he had barely gotten a month of retirement under his belt before dying. That would SUCK, I thought. But then, I revised my opinion and came back with: Good for him. 

Good for him. He, who was passionate about technology? There wouldn’t be a pasture engaging enough for someone with a mind like that. It would’ve been a slow death, being killed a thousand times over, sitting on the sidelines and watching technology emerge without having a hand in it. Smart Man to work until he wasn’t able. I can appreciate that.

But that’s not what this post is about. This is about how Steve Jobs changed my life.

First: 1984. An Orwellian coincidence, I suppose. My dad ordered an Apple IIE for our family computer. I’m not sure how he decided on an Apple, but I was immediately captivated, in no small part due to its ‘Open Apple’ and ‘Closed Apple’ keys. I spent my time:

  • Playing games of “Falling Apples” (<–I think that’s the title)
  • Being a test subject for the program my dad wrote to map visual blindspots
  • Pecking out chapters in my first (incomplete and poorly conceived) novel about college dorm life (no idea where that came from)
  • Helping my dad enter and proof scores for his biology students (one penny per entry!) so that he could apply a bell curve and determine grades
  • Writing programs in BASIC that would perform simple math equations for me

Then in 1986 (I think), my sister went to summer camp and came home toting a graphic designer for a boyfriend and his hand-me-down Mac Classic. He introduced me to MacPaint, and I was HOOKED. The idea of texturizing fonts blew my mind. I don’t think anything that rolled off our (dot matrix) printer that year didn’t have a “brick fill” or splash of “spray paint.”

[Fellow Mac Nerds are laughing right now, fully relating. The rest of you are confused. Sorry about that.]

In high school, I applied for a job writing at my hometown newspaper, and found an aging publisher willing to take a risk on a kid. Little did he know: that risk would pay off.

My first week in the office, I spotted a (then-current) Mac attached to a laser printer on the desk, gathering dust. Curious, I asked him about it. He’d been convinced to buy it, but had no idea how to use it. I jumped in, teaching myself Pagemaker and mocking up an issue of the newspaper. He was excited by the possibilities and trusted me to train the traditional typesetters on desktop publishing, then heeded my advice to buy additional machines.

Once they arrived, since no one knew what to do with Macs, it was left to me to figure out how to network them and create efficient systems for shifting the operations to a more digitally-based workflow. While I was in high school.

Bless Mr. Tull for trusting me, because THIS was the seminal experience of my professional career. It taught me that curiosity, hard work and confidence can lead to awesome things — especially when empowered by someone who trusts you.

Then, when I headed off to college in the fall of 1992, my parents gave me the best gift EVER. A Mac IIsi. With a color monitor. Talk about mind-blowing? It was.

And because I’ve always been awful about sharing, I password protected that thing and told my roommate (a fifth year senior named Sonja) that it was REALLY complicated to use, in an attempt to proactively shut-down any requests.

I shouldn’t have worried. Fifth year seniors don’t hit Year 5 because they try.

And in Sonja’s case, the only thing she was actually interested in doing was her much-older, drop-out boyfriend. I learned this one night when waking up to see “Yiddish Erotica” playing on the television while my bed swayed ominously. A glance below my bunk revealed an eyeful of Size 14 butt cheeks, scar-fully confirming why my bed was moving.

I digress.

The other cool thing about Macs in college? I landed a job as a graphic designer for the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine because I knew Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator on a Mac platform. Never mind that – other than being creative and curious – I didn’t have any solid grasp of design concepts. I knew the software, so I was hired. Above minimum wage AND with business cards. Smoke that.

After school, when I moved to DC, we enter what I now call The Dark Years. My first professional job was in a PC environment. I kept my Macintosh IIsi on ice at home, booting it up to write short stories and design holiday party invitations, but it was no longer my main stay. And every day I called our company’s helpdesk, convinced I’d somehow broken my PC.

Fast-forward to 2002, when I bought a MacBook laptop. I had decided to quit my job and move to France for a year to try my hand at writing, and a Mac seemed liked a critical prop in the fantasy. Indeed, it was: my MacBook became my best friend that year, as I spent seven months without seeing a soul from home. I leaned on it to:

  • Transport my music library with me (because iPods were so new they seemed CRAZY at the time)
  • Download digital photos (that I would transfer to a disk and send from an Internet Cafe because WIFI was still rare)
  • Write 120,000 words to form my first COMPLETE (and second incomplete) draft of a novel

It was my trusty companion for five years, but in 2007 I replaced it with a sportier model (read: wireless card) that I’m still using today. I’ve grown attached to a laptop that is indestructible and proactively seeks out any available wifi signal in the vicinity, but the other Apple devices are the ones that – in recent years – have really rocked my world.

An iPod? I deliberated long and hard and watched most of my friends get one before I decided to buy – mainly because I’m cheap but also because I’m not really a music afficianado, so I wasn’t sure if I’d use it that much. Little did I know… six years later, I’ve listened to over 200 audiobooks and can’t fall asleep at night unless I have an earbud streaming “Stuff You Should Know” into one ear. And I also have an iPod permanently mounted on the speaker system in my living room. Um…

As for the iPhone? THIS is the device that has changed my life. I’m not entirely sure it’s changed for the better, since I now check work email every time I wake in the middle of the night to run for a quick pee, but I’m definitely more connected. If my house were on fire and I could take only one thing with me, even though it’s replaceable, I would probably choose my phone.

I love the multi-tasking nature of it. Contacts? Check. Email? Check. Calendar? Check. Facebook? Any shopping I might need to do? Banking? Mindless YouTube videos? Google searches to settle bar bets? Yes, yes, and yes. I’ve started calling it my “Handheld Computing Device,” mainly to annoy Alan, but it’s true. Who needs a laptop when there’s an iPhone?

And finally, my latest addition: an iPad. Again, I struggled to justify it, but once I integrated it into my life? Worth it. Especially as someone who doesn’t own a television, I love that if there’s a breaking story, I can watch it on my iPad while I cook dinner. And I can download books (audio and e-books) for free from my library, on the other side of the globe.

I could continue raving about technology and how I use it on a daily basis, but this isn’t just a love affair with gadgets. It’s something bigger.

This is the story of a girl who – with the spark of technology – had doors, and opportunities, and entire worlds open to her.

That is pretty awesome.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

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10 Responses to “A Somewhat Rambling Ode to Steve Jobs.”

  1. An Observant Mind October 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Love your epic journey with Apple through the years. Well written and sentimental, taking me on a journey through my past along with yours.

    I have also come to love all things Apple (my husband refers to my Macbook Pro as my “lover”) and certainly for me Apple has changed the way I do almost everything tech related.

    That said, my sister text me about 30 minutes ago; “Who’s Steve Jobs?” (and she’s 30 years old!) It seems, Apple hasn’t overtaken the world just yet.

    • pithypants October 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

      Do a quick check and make sure she knows who Bill Gates is!

  2. DP October 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    It was likely a Mac Plus, not a Classic, in 1986 (Beige Plus at that). Nice piece. I’m still surprised at how similar our experiences were before we met each other. ; )

    • pithypants October 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

      You’re correct! MacPlus. I’ve forgotten my makes and models. I should’ve known you would be my fact checker. The difference between your path and mine? You actually knew what the hell you were doing on a Mac. I mainly read manuals and tried to stay one step ahead of anyone calling my bluff.

  3. Lorna's Voice October 6, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    That is the most fun and personal tribute to a man you didn’t know that I’ve ever read. That didn’t come out quite right, but I think you know what I mean and that it was a compliment! 🙂

    • pithypants October 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

      Thanks! What a great compliment. I think I know what you were going for. 🙂

  4. thesinglecell October 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Okay, so there’s an entire section of this post that I frankly don’t know what to do with… I’ll give you a hint: it contains the term “Yiddish Erotica.” But apart from that () In all seriousness, I’ve never been an Apple/Mac girl. I love my PC and my parents’ first computer purchase was a Commodore 64, circa 198…8? I’m guessing. Floppy disks. Actual. Floppy. Disks. Anyway. I marvel at what you did in high school. And I marvel at what Steve Jobs has done. Because even though I’m not an Apple girl, I still get how revolutionary the whole damned thing has been, and as I was saying to a friend today, I’m fascinated by how much of the world was touched by the death of a corporate CEO.

    And I do have an iPod. Nano. Sans camera. But I don’t know where it is.

    • pithypants October 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

      How about: there’s an entire hour of my life that I didn’t know what to do with? Other than close my eyes and wish myself elsewhere. And I’m not joking about the name of the porn. I initially thought there was a foreign movie on, but then I realized it was porn. The next day I was curious to know what THAT had been, so I checked the VHS. Who knew? Oi Veh!

  5. Sharon October 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    I am still profoundly saddened by the loss of a man I’ve never met, yet whose impacted my life so significantly. I’m typing this on my iPad. I’ve had every iPhone, iPod, and iPad out there. As well as all sorts of iterations of MacBooks, PowerBooks, iMacs, eMacs, and AppleTV. Im a self admitted addict… And I’m going to truly miss his presence in our world.

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