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 SimCitypapers 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.