End of an era

I wrote a brief tribute to Steve Jobs a few weeks ago when he stepped down as CEO of Apple. It was inevitable that the next major news we would hear regarding his health would be negative. And so it was. I woke up to the news of his death on Thursday morning.

I’m not good with death – who is? There have only been a handful of “famous” deaths that I’ve been personally bothered by. Yes, it’s sad to see someone famous and talented die before their time. But I usually try to put it in perspective and end up criticising the over-the-top, emotive news coverage.

I’ve also been lucky enough to only lose a very small number of people truly close to me in my personal life. For me, experience of death is at a removed distance.

The last time I was really affected by an artist’s death was when Shirley Horn died a few years ago. A jazz superstar, she was also an understated performer and a down to earth human being. I was lucky enough to see her live in Boston many years ago and her albums were the soundtrack to my life for over a decade.

A private person, her health never hit the news, and so her death was a shock to me. She got a passing mention on the BBC news, but that was it.

I had to hit the ground running when I heard about Steve Jobs. I had a hectic day of work ahead, complicated by one of my semi-regular epilepsy brain-farts. I didn’t really give it a second thought – I didn’t have time.

Since then, despite some of the awful media coverage, I’ve had time to think about his death and what it means to me. Let’s put this is perspective: he wasn’t my friend, I never met him, and to be honest, if we’d worked together he would have fired my ass for a lack of attention to detail. Probably within 24 hours.

I didn’t know Steve Jobs. But I felt like I did.

I knew him through the Apple products I bought over the last 15 years. Products that simply (for the most part) worked and worked beautifully. I knew him through the attention to detail that was paid to the design of computers and mobile phones.

Various commentators have mentioned that he preferred to tell consumers what they needed, rather than ask. I have to agree. I remember my first bondi iMac. The lack of a floppy drive filled me with dread and I ended up buying an external drive so I could bring files to and from Uni while working on my MSc. Wifi? Mobile Internet on my phone? No such thing. But after a while, the floppy drive went into storage and USB memory sticks were the order or the day. Then cloud storage and sharing of files.

In a sense, he knew what needed to be done to push advances in technology before consumers were really ready for it. But it worked. Not every idea was accepted though. Newton anyone? However, I’m writing this post on an iPad 2. If that isn’t the inheritor of the Newton mantle, I don’t know what is. And it’s selling like hotcakes now.

He was a showman. What other technology CEO could whip a crowd into a frenzy over new technology? What other business gets so much media coverage for each new product? I’m well aware that this annoyed Apple’s critics. I loved ever minute of it!

I’ll miss his performances and his showmanship. I’ll miss the comforting feeling that products passed his personal quality control tests. I’ll miss the fact that he somehow managed to make technology sexy. I’m sure he has laid the foundations for even greater things at Apple.

It just won’t be the same without him. Thanks Steve.

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