Tributes to the late Steve Jobs are left outside the Apple Store in London October 6, 2011.
Credits: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
Not my mortal existence, per se - Jobs didn't save me from drowning in a river or drag me from a burning building or anything quite so melodramatic. But after spending hours reading and watching tributes to the 56-year-old Apple co-founder last night, followed by an unusually fitful and restless sleep, it dawned on me today that the extremely privileged life I lead right now can be traced back to one intense, intelligent man who I never once met in person.
I sometimes find the outpouring of emotion following the death of a famous person a bit, well, disingenuous. Princess Diana was a lovely lady, I'm sure, but her death had absolutely no measurable effect on my life or the life of anyone I know. The same goes for Michael Jackson - I loved his music growing up, but his death didn't retroactively alter my fond memories of Thriller, and doesn't prevent me from going back to those songs again today.
I don't believe simply being a public figure automatically makes your passing more important than the tens of thousands of decent, loving, anonymous human beings who die every day. But in the social media age, grief is accelerated and magnified, and we all want to rush to feel sad for famous people together.
Yet Steve Jobs is different. From a purely selfish and coldly logical perspective, he's different in that he did had a measurable impact on my life, and the lives of many people I know. Without Jobs, I wouldn't be here, sitting at this MacBook, writing about gadgets and video games and apps for a national media company. Without the two Steves - Jobs and Apple co-founder Wozniak - there would be no Apple computer, and I would not have spent an entire summer working in a windowless file room at an Edmonton law firm, feeding expired case files into an industrial paper shredder for the sole purpose of earning enough cash to buy an Apple IIc. My very first computer.
It was the early Apple family of computers that ignited my passion for these - to borrow a phrase Jobs would use decades later - magical and revolutionary devices. I loved that computer, with its whopping 128 KB (or 0.000128 GB) of memory, and that love grew to expand consumer technology in general. I used that Apple computer for writing. I used it for gaming. I used it, in the rudimentary fashion of the time, for making connections online. Who I am and what I do today can be traced back, in an unbroken line, to something that came from the mind of Steve Jobs. And there are thousands, maybe millions, of people who can say the same.
Jobs and his cadre of brilliant engineers, designers and marketers didn't invent computers with icons that you click on with a mouse, or the portable digital music player, or touchscreen smartphones, or tablet computers. What Jobs excelled at was refining these ideas, making these impersonal technologies seem personal, and human, and more often than not, incredibly sexy.
Even if you're not an Apple fan, your life has almost certainly been touched by the company in some way. That awesome Android phone you use wouldn't be so awesome if it didn't have the iPhone to compete against. Those enhancements to Windows 7 you appreciate so much wouldn't have come about if actor Justin Long hadn't been in ads declaring, "I'm a Mac." That Toy Story 3 Blu-ray that your daughter has nearly worn out very possibly wouldn't exist if Jobs hadn't seen computers as the driving force behind the next generation of animation, and bought a little company called Pixar to help make that happen.
Whether you agree with company's philosophies or not, whether you admire their product designs or not, whether you're camping overnight for the new iPhone or pointing and smirking at those who do, Apple - and by extension, Steve Jobs - has made our lives quantifiably more efficient, more entertaining and more interesting.
Yes, we've still got our iPhones and iPods and iMacs; like Michael Jackson's music, they're not going anywhere. But Jobs hadn't peaked yet. He had more to show us and more to teach us, and even if his career had lasted just one more decade ... who knows what else he might have come up with. It's not just the iterative products that Apple is sometimes (and rightly) slammed for, but the new things that were possible, the things that we didn't know we wanted until he conjured them for us, the product categories that didn't exist in a fully tangible way until he willed them to.
Jobs was keenly aware that death is the great equalizer, as we've seen today in the clip of his 2005 Stanford commencement speech that's in heavy rotation on the news networks. He was more ruthlessly aware of his own mortality, on a day-to-day basis, than many of us will be until the very moment it's staring us in the face.
But he used that knowledge to push himself, and his company, and us. "Live every day thinking it's your last, because someday you'll be right" wasn't just a bumper sticker to him, it was a personal creed. Never mind the phones and music players and computers. If we can just take that away as the lesson and legacy of Steve Jobs, it will be a hell of a gift.
As my dad used to say when he was especially proud of a particular accomplishment of mine: "Ya done good, Steve."
Thanks for everything. And may the Wi-Fi signal on the other side always be strong.