Steve Jobs, RIP

The Apple home page right now is exactly what you came to expect: clean, simple, neat—the minimalist style that made the Apple story and Apple products so compelling.  I’ve lost count of the number of Apples I’ve had, though I still have an original 1984 first-generation Mac that is signed in the inside of the case.  (And in fact I bought yet another one just this week; one of those light-as-a-feather MacBook Airs, as I’m tired of lugging my heavy 17-inch MacBook Pro on my frequent short road trips.)

In The Age of Reagan I wrote about how the arrival of 1984 provoked ferocious ideological arguments over Orwell’s famous novel of that year, and wrapped the Apple story into it.  I think the little detail about how the famous Super Bowl ad almost didn’t air is significant:

“Ordinarily these kinds of arguments cannot be resolved, but in this case popular culture trumped arguendo Orwell in the most unlikely of venues—the Super Bowl.  Apple Computer placed a lavishly produced 60-second ad during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII in late January, directed by Ridley Scott, fresh off his feature film triumphs Alien and Blade Runner.  The ad featured an auditorium of grey-clad men with shaved heads listening hypnotically to an Orwellian Big Brother figure on a large theater screen:

Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology. Where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory thoughts. Our Unification of Thought is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people. With one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

“The trance is broken when a woman in orange shorts and white tank top (the only character in color) runs to the front of the auditorium and throws a sledgehammer through the theater screen, whereupon the voiceover narrative says, “On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.  And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”  The ad almost did not air.  Some of Apple’s board of directors were nervous about the ad and wanted to scrap it, but Apple’s management went ahead.  It was an obvious slap at IBM (though Apple denied this), whose new mainframe “Big Blue” was supposed to be the technological equivalent of Orwell’s Big Brother.  Though the ad ran nationally only this one time, Advertising Age would later name the spot “Commercial of the Decade.”  Ironically in 1984 there began to come into view the liberating effect of technology that would play a role in the downfall of the Soviet tyranny that inspired Orwell’s dark vision.”

JOHN adds: I was a latecomer to computers. At some point, it must have been in the 1990s, my kids suggested that we should get a computer. I couldn’t see it: by that time we had them in our office, of course, but to me they were just another piece of office equipment. I said we might as well have a Xerox machine in our living room. The kids have never let me forget that colloquy.

Some time around 2000, internet access was added to our office computers. By that time, of course, I had one of my own. That was the point at which I thought the office appliance might be worth owning at home. I wasn’t crazy about Windows, however; it seemed to be the creature of corporate IT departments and to be deliberately opaque to the individual user. Then the iMac came out. I had read up on Apple a bit, and bought one the first weekend they came out. To count up the Apple computers our family has owned since then would be embarrassing, so I won’t try to do it.

I set up the original Power Line site on an Apple laptop in May 2002 and the thousands of posts I’ve written since than have been done on various Macs. Like Steve, I got tired of lugging around a relatively heavy laptop–six pounds, svelte when I bought it three years ago–and, just a couple of weeks ago, bought a 13″ Macbook Air. My wife has the same computer, but in the 11″ version, which fits in some of her purses.

And that’s not to mention the iPhones and iPads in the family. To me, computers used to mean editing briefs and drafting correspondence. Now, they mean videos of family vacations, a family web site where we keep up with our siblings and cousins, thousands of photos documenting our family’s growth, music that we can stream to speakers throughout our house, episodes of Modern Family that our youngest daughter buys on her iPad and streams to television, texts that I send on my iPhone to invite my middle daughter to lunch. How many businessmen affect our lives in such a personal way? Steve Jobs was one of a very few.

Opinions differ on whether Jobs was a nice guy, but he impacted our lives in a nice way. And, if you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t miss the graduation speech that he delivered to Stanford’s class of 2005. It is one of the classics of the genre.

It is difficult for those of us who don’t achieve greatness–pretty much everyone–to understand how hard those who do become great have to work. Jobs worked harder than most of us could ever imagine, and in the end, he did it for us. I, for one, am grateful.

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