I was sitting downtown using a spare desk in the Simply.ca business services office when I found out. I was working on my MacBook Pro, writing and working on a seminar for how to back up your Mac when the first tweet came through on HootSuite.
Steve Jobs was dead.
And it hit me hard. At first I needed to be sure it was true. Sure the source was supposed to be the AP, but this is the Internet and Twitter after all. Then the word came in through ABC, NBC, CBC, the NYT, then the official word from Apple.
It was true, Steve Jobs had passed. And passed away at the time age my own father did. My own father who, after taking me along to look at various computers to bring home, eventually bought an Apple IIe. And that’s the start of the story.
A friend asked me last night if I had ever met Steve Jobs. No, unfortunately, I never did. But for a man who I never met, no real chance of ever meeting, his vision, his products, his companies (lest we forget Pixar and NeXT) so profoundly touched my personal and professional life that I have to pay homage to his life.
My first high school term paper was a flop. I got a D- I think. I typed it on my family’s electric typewriter. Spelled society wrong every single time. My parents were smart, and my dad techie enough, to see that maybe a computer in the house might help their oldest child in school. Sure my Dad wrote his academic papers and book chapters on the Apple IIe downstairs, but I also spent hours writing papers, learning BASIC, playing Wolfenstein, using a light pen with graphics programs. Yeah I doubt I’d have done very well in high school English if I didn’t have the easy ability write, edit, change, footnote my papers on that Apple IIe. I also learned programming, how computers worked, and not to put your floppy disks on the top of the ImageWriter I because there was a big magnet there.
When I went off to university (or college as we Americans like to call it), I got my first computer of my own—a Mac SE with the (then) ginormous 20 meg hard drive. That’s also when my dad told me those prophetic words that would set the stage for the rest of my life—Tris I won’t be there to read the manuals for you, you’ll have to do it yourself.
That advice led me to the campus computer lab and my life as a full-fledged geek. Learning the Internet (as nascent as it was between 1987–91), learning Word (1.0, btw) and what Macs could do. Helping fix disks gone bad. Recovering files, fixing documents, as well as using ResEdit to do not very nice things to people’s machines. Oh MacPuke, I so miss you sometimes—though I actually miss MacGiggle more, the version a friend of mine made with a girls giggle instead.
I wrote my masters thesis on an SE/30 and that’s when I started to learn how to Macs were different and better, and not so good, as other OSes. Getting my data and between PCs and Macs. Doing some analysis on a PC, then more on my Mac. That’s when you really start to appreciate things, and see how things could be better (I’m so glad OS X has a command line interface now).
When I learned HTML, when I learned how to create websites, it was on a Mac. I even (gasp) helped sneak Macs into entirely Windows PC departments because the job that needed to get done was done better on a Mac. Could I have done it all on a PC? Oh sure. As well? Maybe. With more style and flair and the speed to script things to run and work? Yeah, probably not.
And as I look back now, I learned that computers should be easy to use, but still powerful. I learned that creativity shouldn’t be held back by technology. Back then Macs (and clones…I still have a Mac clone in my office closet—the one I snuck into Glaxo for web development) weren’t the sexiest boxes on the desk. Now they are.
Yes I had to leave the Mac fold for a while. Yes I jealously derided Macs as being overpriced (mostly because I couldn’t afford one) for a time. But when it came time to upgrade from another failing PC laptop, I saw that Macs had the right value for the horsepower I needed. Yeah baby, I’m back.
That’s my Mac history (as I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro running Lion and listening for the bing of new mail on my iPhone and iPad and music on an older iPhone), but what about Steve Jobs?
Well, his dream and products shaped how I learned how to use technology and connect with the world. The movies that Pixar made inspired all of us and our children. The NeXT might have been a flop (I got to try one at the University of Maine), but the innovations Steve Jobs started there can be seen in today’s Macs.
I owe a lot to Steve Jobs and Apple. The dream of making affordable home computers (and computers in schools) let my dad choose an Apple IIe over the Epson model I remember us looking at. The dream of making computers easy to use and easy to mix media together profoundly influenced what I did in college, grad school, as a web designer, as a podcaster, blogger, and now as an author.
Today I continue to use his products to create things, but as Steve wanted, it’s less about the OS or device, but the experience and frictionless way I go from MacBook to iPhone to iPad. It’s about letting technology do its thing while I do mine.
Thank you Steve and Apple for helping to shape my life.
Originally posted on the Future Shop Tech Blog.