5 Things I Like About Steve Jobs
Since Steve Jobs' death a few weeks ago, I have read his biography and many articles about his legacy. Some people equate him to Thomas Edison. Others contest this "aggrandizement." I am in no position to eulogize. I don't own a smart phone, I only upgrade my computer on the verge of catastrophe, the Apple Store gives me a migraine, and I never had more than a passing interest in the CEO of Apple until the details of his personal life emerged. I'd be a fool though not to see that his life affected mine. Here are a few of the things for which I wish I could thank him:
1. My Friendly Computer
Before I got my first Mac, computers were incomprehensible to me. I had classes in high school but - are you old enough to remember this? - navigating the computer required manuals or hand-written notes. A flashing green cursor prompted me to remember esoteric bits of code. The commands made perfect sense to my teacher, but not to me. BOOT? Why "boot"? And a typo could derail the entire class. I spent most of those half-hours rifling through dittos, troubleshooting my failure to open the spreadsheet program that my teacher was so passionate about. I dreaded the computer lab as a chilly, sterile, foreign land, populated by temperamental machines. I was delighted to leave it behind when I went to college.
Then my family got a Mac, and a mouse. "Point and click" was the revolution from my point of view. Turning the screen into a "desktop" was design thinking at its best. In those years of discovery between our first personal computer and our acquisition of Pagemaker, Quark Xpress, and Photoshop; I dreamt many times that I lived on my desktop. It was a place where I could write my family, flirt with girls, listen to music, and embellish my artwork. The computer was no longer an appliance. It was an environment. One that has tailored itself over the years to my needs and interests. User-friendly is an understatement.
2. Its Elegant Design
In THB, a futuristic comic by Paul Pope, computers take all shapes and sizes. My favorite resembles a small ebony vase. Not an appliance, a little work of art. In another great comic, Cages by Dave McKean, a monarch commissions a series of enchanted windows for his castle. They provide a magical view of any place in the kingdom, into the past, and into the future. I like my Mac for both these reasons. It is an interface and a soft-spoken thing of beauty. Somewhere in between those two things, it is also kind of magical.
According to his biographer, Steve Jobs gathered the creators of the original Macintosh and said "Great artists sign their work. I want you to sign." He had their signatures engraved into the inside cover of the computer. Nobody would see it, but he wanted it known that the Macintosh was a work of art and its creators were artists.
3. An Art Advocate
Steve Jobs recognized the importance of art. He described his career as an effort to make products that were at "the intersection of art and technology." In doing so, he turned Apple into the world's most valuable company worth hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars. Not to mention his successes with Pixar and iTunes.
As an artist, an art teacher, and a cinefile; I am a fan of Pixar. Beyond their technical brilliance, Pixar movies have heart. Even their shorts like Boundin' and Day & Night are some of my favorite movie-going experiences. Thanks to a friend who works there now, I saw John Lasseter speak in Washington before I'd ever heard his name, and I visited the Pixar studio fifteen years later. I can't say anything about it that hasn't already been said. Pixar is an exemplar of creativity. Lasseter echoed his partner's philosophy when he described their success: "The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art."
Pixar was MY first clue that Steve Jobs was more than a money maker. "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me," He said. "Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... That's what matters to me."
5. His Last Words
"OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW" are perhaps the most hopeful, most courageous, and most inspiring last words that I have ever heard or read. Mona Simpson wrote that they expressed her brother's "capacity for wonderment, the artist's belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later." I know that Jobs was Buddhist, and I have read that there is a Buddhist monk who welcomed on the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable with those exact words. I do wonder if Jobs was practicing that meditation on his death bed.
Whatever the inspiration, Steve Jobs's final words were even more touching to me when I learned about the context. According to his sister, the words were spoken after he "looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life's partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them." I hope I am blessed with the presence of mind to consider my life and my death as he well as he did.