Steve Jobs, RIP

It was a cold, gray, January morning in 1986. I walked with my new friend Tim into one of the gallery rooms at our Seattle art school. We stopped at a table to inspect this beige contraption that looked like a combination TV and fire safe, as designed by the Soviets.

“What the hell’s this?” I asked, pushing the button on the little soap bar-sized device attached to the thing with a wire.

“Macintosh,” said Tim, reading the placard on the table. “Apple Macintosh. It’s a computer.” We started moving the mouse around, and a program entitled MacDraw came to life on the monochromatic screen. We drew some crude shapes and scrawled a few words. It was fun.

Then I pushed the mouse away with disgust. “Right,” I sniffed. “Like this toy is ever going to replace real artists like us. Nice try…” I squinted at the rainbow colored logo above the tiny screen. “Apple.”

The Macintosh Plus we summarily dismissed would of course morph and grow into the very tool that allowed Tim and me to flourish as graphic designers, and eventually to make a living creating work that would have been much more difficult—and a lot less fun—on a Windows box.

The news of Steve Jobs’ passing at age 56 came as a grim shock to our family, all of whom are Mac enthusiasts. We’ve always had nothing but Macs, (and iPods and iPads) in our household until last summer, when my daughter Speaker saved up her money and bought an HP laptop. She didn’t have enough to spring for a MacBook, but desperately wanted her own computer. Guess who’s computer is the only usually on the blink?

The near-absence of viruses and malware written for the Mac OS is but one feature of these elegant, intuitive machines that make them the easy choice for so many creative types. I’ve had to use Windows many times in my professional life, and my experience is that it’s clunky, confusing, needlessly complex, and you’re always aware of the computer system chugging away alongside the work you’re doing.

On a Mac, you just work. The “Mac vs. PC” debate is a tiresome, unwinnable argument that I try to stay out of. It’s like arguing about religion. I’m aware that 95% of the computer market is occupied by Windows machines. I’m also aware that great work is done on these machines, pretty much the same kind of work that can be done on Macs. But count me as one of the evangelical Mac users. A Mac snob. A devotee of Apple. I’ve used both platforms extensively, creating graphics and logos and print layouts, and I need a system that moves as fast as I can think without gumming up the works. That’s why I’m a Mac guy.

I have visited the American Computer Museum in Bozeman a few times, and it’s bursting with incredible displays chronicling the development of these ubiquitous devices of modern society. My favorite display has always been the life-sized diorama depicting Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, hunkered down in a garage, building the wood-encased prototype for the Apple II, a direct predecessor of the Macintosh. There are Led Zeppelin posters on the garage wall, and the guys are wearing bandanas wrapped around their long hair. It’s more “That 70’s Show” than Stanford computer lab, but I think it captures the spirit pretty well.

Jobs and Wozniak knew early on that they were on the bleeding edge of a modern revolution. Computing power could unlock the potential of the masses, bring to everyone the capability of working and creating without being tethered to some corporate or academia-based behemoth like Univac or IBM’s Big Blue. The vision shared by the two Steves came to fruition under Jobs’ leadership at Apple, and his impact on modern society has been nothing less than stunning. Nothing has been as pervasive in our lives in the last generation as much as the personal computer. Having a computer in your home is as common and necessary as having a phone.

The iPod changed the way we listen to music. iTunes changed the way we buy music, and helped begin the rapid erosion of the bloated record industry in the process. Apple didn’t invent the cell phone, but they did create the best one. Have you noticed that people with iPhones don’t say, “my phone is ringing;” they say, “My iPhone is ringing.”

Apple hasn’t been perfect. They’ve had their missteps, but they have been infrequent enough that when they happen, it’s big news. The Newton, Apple’s early version of the Palm Pilot, was a bulky, buggy mess. Their late-90’s flirtation with kicky colors on the iMac and iBook made these revolutionary machines look like toys. Apple fans have a sense of humor, but we’re not all Dr Seuss.

For me, the one thing Apple has never been able to get right has been the mouse. From the Pro Mouse that used the entire mouse as a button, to the pricey Mighty Mouse and the uncomfortable Magic Mouse, it’s like Apple feels the need to reinvent this peripheral, not just build a good one. The worst mouse of all, the universally reviled “hockey puck” made me wonder if Apple had used up its entire allotment of creativity on the Mac itself and farmed out the design of that mouse to Black and Decker.

Given the revolutionary impact and stunning success Apple has had since that day I first experienced the Mac in 1986, I can forgive them their mouse troubles. When MacBook users spot each other in coffee shops or airports, there is usually the exchange of knowing glances, as we acknowledge a fellow traveler in this exclusive club. We love our Macs, and we’re willing to pay twice as much as we would for a Windows computer because we know they are a better machine. In the Mac vs. PC world, you truly do get what you pay for.

I bought my first Mac, a Classic that came with a whopping four megabytes of memory, in 1990. Since then I have owned seven Macs. Each system was eventually souped up and maxed out with memory and replaced when it no longer supported the latest software. I’ve never been a “latest-and-greatest” kind of guy. My current machine, a 13” MacBook Pro, replaced a G5 tower on which I wrote two books, recorded three albums, and created hundreds of graphics projects over a span of three years. If I had to do all that stuff in Windows, I would have thrown in the towel long ago and taken a job down at the car wash, where all it ever does is rain.

So today I doff my battered Stetson and pay my respects to a man who, through his vision, determination and limitless imagination, had a huge impact on my creative life. Steve Jobs is up there in my personal pantheon with Johnny Cash, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson and Chuck Berry. Thank you, Mr. Jobs, for providing me with this elegant and powerful conduit to my creativity. I’ll continue to sing the praises of Apple and enjoy the sheer fun their products bring into my everyday existence.

If computers were a religion, this right here would represent the day I found Jesus.

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