Gratitude and Loss

Tim Cook is not the most dynamic of presenters, but he seemed to have aged ten years on Tuesday. I did not put two and two together, probably because I did not want to. Horace Dedieu tweeted a still from the Tuesday presentation where the camera pans across the audience with the words “they knew”. You can see an empty “reserved” front row aisle seat and several of the people around it are clapping woodenly and in tears. I remember seeing the empty seat and thought nothing of it at the time.

I loved the Apple II. At the time I thought it was “just a computer”, but it really spoiled me for other computers. I gave up computer science because hacking on DEC mainframes was totally not fun the way coding the Apple II was. But it was the Mac that really changed my life. At the time I was designing games using an Olivetti typewriter, scissors, tape, and photocopiers. Suddenly a single guy like me working on a Mac could produce documents and game components not just equal to but superior than products produced by giant companies. (The Mac gave indie designers the kind of agility small web shops have today.)

Steve Jobs is being compared to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford a lot today, but these men didn’t make tools. Sure, they created markets for parts and accessories and infrastructure — without the light bulb we wouldn’t have an aisle of lamp stand parts in Target today, right? But Edison made new gadgets (e.g. the phonograph) and Ford perfected the assembly line. Jobs took existing technologies, mashed them up, created something that transcended what was out there, created new markets out of whole cloth, and enabled people to do old things in new ways and new kinds of things entirely.

He created “bicycles for the mind”.

Imagine if Henry Ford started mass producing cars in 1899 when there was no mass market for cars at all. And now imagine he did five other similarly impressive things.

Thomas Edison is more comparable, especially when it comes to light bulbs, generators, and electricity. (An ungenerous comparison would probably draw parallels between Edison’s stealing ideas from Tesla with Jobs’s epiphany at Xerox PARC, but I would suggest that the comparison vastly favors Jobs.) Electricity became a tool, an industry, an enabler or new ways and new things, so Edison is in the ballpark, but Jobs did it over and over, with a speed and scale that is simply mind-boggling.

Grief engraves moments in memory, and I will never forget Rosanna calling me as i drove to dinner last night. I’m sadder than when John Lennon died. I’m sadder than when the Challenger exploded. I hate to say this, but I’m as sad as when my father died. It’s a selfish sadness, because I’m pretty sure that Steve had a bunch of great stuff left to do that we may not see, or may see later an in some much uglier form. It’s a sadness of gratitude and loss because technology is inevitable but Art is irreplaceable, and Steve Jobs, like John Lennon, made things that touched my soul.