Thank you Steve Jobs
Over dinner recently, a 20 something colleague jokingly chided me that I've mentioned how much I miss Steve Jobs, apparently more than once….
"Just write a blog post and get over it, will you?" He said.
So I wrote the blog post. But I won't ever "get over it."
So much e-ink has been spilled in the wake of Steve Jobs' death that I've been reluctant to add my own voice. How could I add to the magnificent words of Walter Isaacson, the fascinating stories by those who knew him professionally, like Walt Mossberg; or the intense and personal descriptions of those closest and dearest to him, such as the unforgettable obituary given by his sister Mona?
I didn't know Steve. But I think of Steve, often. So these are the words of a stranger, and someone who wasn't even a Mac computer fan until 2007. But here's what he meant to me:
I grew up in what can only be described as a provincial, rural setting in Illinois in the very early 80s. Jobs' face was everywhere in the media, and this was in a time when there were only a few media sources, not the proliferation we see now. So I would see a piece on him on 60 minutes. Then on major networks, in all the newspapers, etc.
Jobs was only fifteen years older than me, and to me, that seemed like practically a sibling when everyone around you is so much older. My father wasn't around and my mother had just remarried a man who was born in 1929. Think about that for a minute. 1929. The year the great depression started. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I was an only child before there was the internet. To me Steve Jobs was like Willy Wonka--an amazing uncle capable of great and mysterious things. Not a "grown up." Someone young, who the media considered important. We all knew his name, we all knew who he was and that what he was doing was for us, not for our parents. It was as if we were all in on his secret joke. In 8th grade, I won my classroom's stock picking competition because I picked Apple. I had to explain to the teacher what that was. (Still wish I had bought that stock for real!)
Meanwhile, school had always been easy for me, and stuck in a public school with work that didn't challenge me, the teachers, bless them, were at odds as to what to do with the feisty pre teen that finished work before everyone else, talked a lot, and got bored easily. One day I discovered the Commodore PET sitting at the back of the classroom. Someone had procured a simple manual to "teach yourself BASIC"…and I was off. Soon I was racing through classwork just to get to the back of the room to work on programs. I was playing Star Trek in DOS in the library during study breaks. Anything I could do to get my hands on a computer. My parents made good choices and provided me with a series of computers, starting with helping me solder together my first Timex Sinclair ZX, my much desired, Commodore-64, which I still have, and so on. The Macintosh was released in my sophomore year of high school, and at the time we were too poor to afford that. My christian high school had no computers to speak of; but my parents did make sure I learned how to type because they believe "computers were going to be big."
In college, my roommate had an Apple IIC and we had a ball with that optical mouse. In fact, during my freshman year of college, papers written on the computer were banned, because it was believed those of us with computers were at an advantage to those who didn't. By senior year in 1991, the entire library was filled with Macintoshes.
In the meantime, I had taken a computer programming course, thinking I wanted to do more with this interest, but I fell out of love after a few disastrous run ins with a misplaced semi colon. My passion had shifted to theatre by this time and I was focused on building my career in this way. But through that time, I used Macs to create all the forms I needed, and I chose schools based on the quality of their computer lighting boards. My stepfather showed me how autoCAD was transforming his profession of drafting; and I remember telling my professors in college how soon all the stage sets would be designed by computer. They laughed at me.
I read a lot of newspapers and have all my life, so it was easy to know what Steve was up to. He had a kindly face to me, the face of great intelligence and playfulness. When he was fired from Apple, I saw it as the old hating the new. When he won with Pixar, I felt that too.
Years passed. Eventually I went to business school. When I graduated, I thought I'd be putting my theatre experience to work in retail, where experiences matter like stage settings. But I managed at the last possible minute to score a job with eBay, and I'd like to say my stories of using computers my whole life helped me close that job.
I can say I grew up with Steve, in a fashion. We all did, those of us who were kids when he made it big. We saw him as one of us--a rebel, challenging the stuffy old world.
So yes, I still miss him, and I probably will until I die. Our world is, I believe, poorer without him. Young people today (hello, young colleague of mine) have grown up in a world of Mac ubiquity and power. Dare I say you took Steve and his vision for granted? That you don't remember a world of Fortran and punch cards and impenetrable user interfaces? You saw the fruits of his labors but not the transformation in the world he created (and inspired others to create, hello Woz). You are lucky that you didn't have those battles to fight. Your challenges are different. Just like mine were from my depression era grandparents.
I felt Steve's diagnosis in 2004 like a punch in the gut. My stepfather died of pancreatic cancer in early 2002 and so I knew Steve's illness was serious. But I believed him when he said he was cured after a liver transplant. Seeing him so gaunt in the videos of 2006, I knew the end was near. We were truly lucky to have him for nearly 5 more years. In that time he released the iPad, which I saw at last week's ISTE conference to be absolutely transforming K-12 education in ways that will again shape our world for the better. Only a handful of others can say they've done that. Salk. Edison. Ford. Einstein. In other words, "The Crazy Ones." Will cancer some day be cured by a poor child who gets an iPad? I wouldn't bet against it.
Was Steve Jobs a royal dick? Sure sounds like it. But as just another human who benefitted from his vision, I didn't have to see that. I only got to enjoy the fruits of that vision and it helped take this country girl out of poverty and into the new economy.
After Steve passed, I found a previously obscure video interview of Steve done by public television where he says:
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you're life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.
That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.
He was right. That quote that inspired me to have the courage and curiosity to work on starting my own business. So to the very end, Steve will be someone who was a part of my life and who changed my life. I will never be the same again.
So here's to you Steve: Thank you. I hope you are partying up there with all the crazy ones, wherever you are. I will feel your absence for the rest of my life.