Steve Jobs storytelling and Apple history

I knew I would have to write an obituary for Steve Jobs someday. I didn’t think it would happen this soon–or that the subject would draw so much interest.

But it did, and it has.

I haven’t seen such a rush by people to document What They Felt since… okay, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 last month. But I understand where that comes from: When certain big things happen, if you don’t instinctively clutch for a keyboard or a notepad, you’re not much of a journalist.

So after learning the news–through a voicemail from a local TV producer who wanted to know if I could come on the Thursday morning show to talk about Jobs’ passing–I spent about two hours writing an appreciation of Jobs. Then I spent another two hours rewriting it. Something about an obituary does not tolerate factual errors or even merely inelegant writing.

Every other tech journalist seems to have done the same thing. A few shared stories of getting repeated phone calls from Jobs, sometimes even at their homes–or of visiting Jobs at his home–while others only connected with Jobs in brief interviews.

What’s surprised me since has been the expressions from individual users: the posts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (some from users who changed their avatars to Apple icons or pictures of Jobs); the “what Apple products I’ve owned” inventories (mine appears after the jump); the testimonials that have been piling up in front of Apple Stores. The photo at right shows the Clarendon location, where passerby have been leaving messages on Post-It notes (provided by the store, I think). One of my favorites reads “Thanks for ignoring the focus groups”; another simply has the word “Sleep” inside a rounded rectangle, as if it were a button in an OS X dialog box.

It’s all a reminder: These things with screens and buttons aren’t just tools we use and then set aside. They change us. They are part of our culture.

Today’s commemorations of Steve Jobs remind me of another, less pleasant reality: The price of being around at a time when you can meet the inventors of the technologies that changed your world is eventually having to say goodbye to them. There will be other farewells like this, I hope not too soon.

This list doesn’t count other people’s computers that I used often or hardware loaned for review, only hardware I’ve actually owned:

  • Mac SE, used from 1989 to 1993: This replaced my dad’s old IBM PCjr, which had the good sense to die right as I moved into Georgetown. I can’t count how many hours I sank into Tetris and SimCity papers on this thing freshman year. But by junior year, I was neglecting it in favor of the faster Mac LCs and much faster Mac IIci in my college paper’s offices–which had the added advantage of allowing me to pull all-nighters without annoying my roommate.
  • PowerBook 165c, 1993 to 1996: I loved the bright color screen, the portability, and the fact that my machine somehow arrived with a 120-megabyte hard drive instead of the 80 MB drive I’d ordered, but I was less thrilled about its weak battery life. I think I bought this with a StyleWriter inkjet; remember when Apple sold printers? In the spring of 1994, I spent $300 and change on a 19.2 kbps internal modem for it–a phenomenally cost-effective upgrade, since it allowed me to start writing about the online world well before most of Post colleagues.
  • Power Computing PowerCurve 601/120, 1996 to 2002: Does a Mac clone count? Sure. This was my most PC-esque computer–I kept it for so long because I kept upgrading components on the inside. By the time I was done with it, I had upgraded the hard drive and memory once, swapped out the processor twice (it retired with a PowerPC G3), replaced the internal power supply and added two USB ports on a PCI card.
  • iMac (Flat Panel), 2002 to 2006: This was my first Mac designed under Steve Jobs’ leadership, and the first Mac I bought after seeing him unveil it at a Macworld Expo keynote. I handed this one off to my mom, whom it valiantly served for another four years; it’s since been donated to charity.
  • iPod nano (2nd Generation), 2006-present: I took inexplicably long to buy an iPod, in part because Apple updated the iPod so often in 2004 and 2005–and Apple PR would send me each new model to try. (But that doesn’t explain why I didn’t buy one between 2001 and 2004. Was I that fond of my portable CD player? Did I have too many non-Apple MP3 players to test?) The screen stopped working a year ago, when I’d already switched to using my Android phone as an MP3 player.
  • iMac (Late 2006), 2006 to 2009: I held off on the first round of Intel-based Mac desktops but jumped on this–the first machine I bought with WiFi and Bluetooth built in. I gave this one to my mom after she retired the previous iMac. (Mom, you’re welcome.)
  • iMac (Late 2009), 2009 to present: This model has about 204 times the hard-drive space of that Mac SE, 382 times its processor clock speed (which says little about their relative performance), and 4,096 times its memory. It’s the machine I’m writing this post on.
  • iPad 2, 2011 to present: My wife’s birthday present, but technically it’s ours. At least, she doesn’t mind if I borrow it.
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19 thoughts on “Steve Jobs storytelling and Apple history

  1. My conversion from Linux to Mac:

    http://www.hulver.com/scoop/story/2007/3/12/103531/851

    Still running the 24″ iMac. Once I have some spare cash (next spring, maybe) I’m getting a Mini and Cinema Display. All in ones are great if all the components are going to become obsolescent at once. In my case, the hard drive is full, the CPU underpowered, not enough RAM, but the screen is fine. But you can’t use an iMac of that generation as a screen for a different system…

    After I got the iMac I got a 4th gen iPod Nano. Wish I had kept it when I got the 5th gen one. I find myself wanting another one, but the touch screen interface won’t work for me. But I think the Walkman devices play AAC files…

    “There will be other farewells like this, I hope not too soon.”
    BillG is looking healthy these days. Woz is looking rough, however. Makes me look svelte, and I could lose 40 pounds and not be called thin.

  2. Two more things: Jobs, who may he rest in peace and was in my IMHO a
    very good and talented man, was the son of an American white mother
    and an Arab Syrian father, and this might explain the high IQ and
    ambition drive DNA that drove him all his life. I also did not know
    this Arab connection until the i read the news last month, i always
    thought he was Jewish. But this is a good story for the Arab Spring
    too, Steve Jobs was one of them, and look how far he rose, so long
    live Arab DNA mixing with Caucasian DNA even if they never got
    married. Is his dad still alive?

    And three: the 24/7 CNN All News Channels legacy tributes to Steve is
    getting annoying. I do not own or use ever every any of those devices,
    I have never bought or used any Apple device, not an iPhoney, not an
    Ipaddy, not an Ipoddy, i mean, what’s with this worship of the
    gadgetheadery of the this God of the Gadgetheads? I mean, he was just
    a mortal man who ran a cool business, but does he deserve 24/7 CNN
    coverage like he was a god? Will CNN and the ALL News Channels give
    the same coverage with Steven Speilberg dies? or Paul McCartney? Or
    Margaret Atwood? What’s with this TV news deificiation of Jobs? He
    lived, he died, a good life, a very talented man. But NOT A GOD, stop
    this 24/7 coverage. He was a flawed man as well. Let’s look at that
    stuff, too, and drop the god stuff.

    As someone who has never owned an Apple product, I could care less
    about Apple. But the man Steve Jobs, yes, I salute a life well lived
    and his drive to succeed. Bravo. But a flawed man like everyone else.

  3. It’s all a reminder: These things with screens and buttons aren’t just tools we use and then set aside. They change us. They are part of our culture. NOTE THEY ARE PART OF BS CONSUMER SLASH BURN CONSUME CUlture. Stop making Jobs into a god and Apple into Heaven. Neither. Just a business. A genius. but it did not change culture at all. USA is still as dumb as ever. Look around you Rob

  4. ”Thanks for the note. Your e-mail []comment] might have been more persuasive if it had fewer misspellings. ” said Rob to me.

    Said Danny to Rob: I wasn;t trying to perusade anyone of anything. And that’s how i type, take it or leave it….sigh”

    • First: It’s in the nature of TV news–and the mass media in general–to over-cover certain stories. How long did Ronald Reagan dominate the headlines after he passed away? For that matter, compare the obsessive coverage of a story like Amanda Knox? Some of this Jobs coverage has been overdone, but at least Jobs, flaws and all, made a serious difference in the world.

      Second: If you really think tools don’t change culture, then I gather you’d rate Gutenberg, Edison and Bell as fairly unremarkable too.

      Third: It certainly seemed like you were trying to change my mind. But it’s possible I was wrong about that.

  5. Rob, thanks for your good reply, and I take all your points as well said and on target. However, what i still don’t GET from my computerless cave here in Taiwan, where I have never owned and will never own or use an iPod or a iPhone or an ipad or
    even a computer, — i have never onwed an Apple product, although I did use a Mac computer in the newsroom where I worked in 1999 and i loved the colors and design of it, yet, it made the entire newsroom soar! — what i still don’t get , although I do get it, is that the geek and tech reporters, and bloggers and journalists who cover tech issues, from David Pogue to you, Rob and all 100,000 geek tech bloggers in the USA not to mention overseas as well, to youse guys Jobs was like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, he was God, or iGod, as the headlines now say. But HE HIMSELF did not invent or design anything. He was just a non-Christian, LSD-slurping, Buhhist hippe of Syrian Arab DNA, and yet the news reports after his death say nothing of this, it’s all GOD GOD GOD…..as if. …RE: “First: It’s in the nature of TV news–and the mass media in general–to over-cover certain stories. How long did Ronald Reagan dominate the headlines after he passed away? TRUE, BUT EVER REAGAN HAD HIS CRITICS AND DETRACTORS THSI ENTIRE JOBS RIP THING HAS BEEN GOD JOBS ALL THE WAY, TAKE THE LSD FOR CRYING OUT LOUD…….and TRUE KNOX HAD HER PRO AND CON STORIES TOO….. NOT JUST GOD AMANDA….re “For that matter, compare the obsessive coverage of a story like Amanda Knox?” ……RE: “Some of this Jobs coverage has been overdone, but at least Jobs, flaws and all, made a serious difference in the world …..NO….HE MADE NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL IN THIS WORLD ROB, HE WILL BE FORGOTTEN IN 50 YEARS..

    Second: If you really think tools don’t change culture, then I gather you’d rate Gutenberg, Edison and Bell as fairly unremarkable too. JOBS WAS NOT A GUTENBERG OR AN EDISON OR A BELL. HE WAS A SAVVY BUSINESSMAN AND SHOWMAN. a POP CULTURE creation fo the pop culture nerd geek tech culture. He was every geeks wetdream. But HE WAS NOT GUTE OR EDISON OR BELL. Wake up and stop swallowing the Jim Jones Kool aid.

    Third: It certainly seemed like you were trying to change my mind. But it’s possible I was wrong about that. AND NO, I WAS NOT AND AM NOT TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR MIND.
    you will come to your senses later, on your own. I never try to change minds. I just say my two cents and push SEND. and I am smart enough to admit I might even be wrong about all this.
    But for now, these above are my thoughts. RIP Steve Jobs, a very interesting man, yes, But not the Gute-Ed-Bell of our times. He was Colonel Parker to Elvis, and in this case Elvis was
    the computer/screen/gadget biz that was nirvana for your gadgethead readers. To me, Steve was just a normal 1960s bloke, creative, savvy, rebellious, non-Christian……he rejected Jesus and all the crap that most of his Jobs followers blindly follow..THEY don’;t realize that Jobs rejected the very foundations of the USA. He was pointing the way to a new culture, a non-Christian culture, and the gadgets his companies sold were jsut that — gadgets. They did not change the world. Is global warming getting any better now after 20 years of APPLE? No. Is anyone
    stopping to drive their cars or take airplanes and stop C02? No…..it’s all burn/slash/consume, let’s go gadgetheads……BLIND LEADING THE BLIND…..but i liked Jobs and I respect him, yes. it’s the silly post-mortems that i just don’t GET. then again, there are lots of things i don’t get….and i might be wrong here. i often am,.,……danny bloom (1949-2032)

    • TINA; re: ”Danny, do me a favor…..the caps are crazy and do not help you make a point…..”

      Sorry for that Tina, i always get that response from people like you. I was using the CAPS to show my annotated
      comments to Rob’s post and comments. That’s all. Get over it, girl!

      But I do apologize is those caps letters hurt your eyes or seared your eardrums. Its my style of engagement online.
      If you don’t like it, don’t read me. Sheesh. You think the rules were made for everyone to follow? Even Jobs said
      stayhungry stay fioolish. that’s ME! — smile…but i do apolo for hurting your eyes. My bad,

  6. There’s wisdom beyond the years indicated by your photo with this statement of yours on Steve Jobs’ passing:

    “The price of being around at a time when you can meet the inventors of the technologies that changed your world is eventually having to say goodbye to them. ”

    I hope lots of your readers have paused to actually…..think……..about that, in this contemporary micro-attention-span-faux-gadget lifestyle…….and will now become closer observers.

  7. I have used Mac computers since 1988. But, here is a question. How do people afford the iPhone or a competitor? I recently checked and with the separate charges for voice, internet, the required text mail, continuing the regular internet for your desktop or laptop, and maybe a landline if you have a fax, I just don’t know how so many people can do it. I am not poor but I do have to be careful with my money. The three different charges just for the iPhone seem unreasonable to me. So the text charge is “only” $5 or 10 but that is at minimum $60 a year and I don’t even use texting on my regular cell phone. And, of course, you almost have to have cable or satellite TV and I include that in with my monthly “tech” expenses.

  8. Pingback: Getting flamed | Rob Pegoraro

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