Reflections on Steve Jobs

[Image via Apple.com]

The news that Steve Jobs had died flashed on my iPhone last nite -- and hit me like a punch in the gut. My wife and I were talking to my mother on my iPhone when the AP alert dinged. I looked around on my kitchen table as the news sunk in. On the table were two iPhones and a new MacBook Pro. Nearby, an iPad lay on its back.

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Here I was surrounded by stuff that this man had willed into reality. And all these gadgets were now an intricate and important part of my life. Ninety percent of the photos and videos I've taken of my three young kids have been with iPhones -- and Steve Jobs put them in my hands.

We don't just build and use tools to make things. These tools, in turn, re-make us.

So much has already been written about the impact of Steve Jobs on the world of technology and business, and on industries such as computers, music, and software.

But this blog post isn't about that. This is about the impact his vision has had on me and my family.

Ever since my young daughter was about six months old, she was handling an iPhone. She learned the sounds and images of animals on it. She learned her numbers and letters on it and later, an iPad. She was touching digital screens with fingers that were only a few millimeters wide.

She has grown up in a touchscreen world that largely Steve Jobs help bring about in the last four years. Now, when she sees a screen, she touches it, expecting the digital world to also deliver her a tactile experience.

This is new for all of us.

At 2 1/2, she started using the MacBook Pro and playing basic games that helped sharpen her memory. She has an incredibly scary memory already.

So last night, as I was tweeting my thoughts on Jobs' death, I pulled up Apple's website, which had posted a photo of Jobs and a warm message. My daughter sat on my lap and asked: "Daddy, who is that?"

I actually choked up. I said, "That's the man who invented our iPhones."

"Awwwwww," she said, with a smile. I couldn't bring myself to tell her he had died.

I came to appreciate -- and afford -- Apple relatively late in my life. Their products were never cheap, but they often satisfied and delighted, usually. And of course, Apple itself wasn't always hitting homeruns with its products, but on balance, its last decade has been pretty amazing.

No, I grew up in a PC household, where my computers were more like pack mules than exquisite machines. Oh and they were loud, with buzzing and whirring fans at all hours of the day and night.

My first Apple product was a 30GB iPod with video, seven years ago. I'm sure the iPod was the "gateway drug" for many who've adopted Apple products in recent years. It was different, small, powerful and easy to use. When it came time to buy a desktop computer a few years later, I had arguments with my wife over whether we should stay Mac or go PC. She was highly skeptical. She wanted to stay PC because it was compatible with her job's software. I wanted to go Mac because I believed it would help my creative exploits on the Web.

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I won that argument (but have lost many, many since.) And now, my wife is indeed a Mac convert. (Guys -- it's a LOT easier to open up the wallet nowadays for tech purchases when the spouse is on board.)

From there, we got iPhones, iPads and a MacBook. They've all "just worked" wonderfully. The retail experience and customer support at the Apple Store in Towson is, by and large, excellent. It's just always crowded.

In my view, I think so many people -- tech geeks, customers, fanboys -- connected with Steve Jobs not only for his flair and showmanship, but in his ability to make you believe that he had your best interests in mind. This was part of the mythical "reality distortion field" that so many thought Steve Jobs could ensnare people with -- it even has its own Wikipedia entry. He projected the attitude of a guy who didn't tolerate crap for himself, and he wasn't going to let you, his customer, deal with crap either.

His passion and zeal for making cool stuff was real, and he brought us all along for the ride.

Thanks for the wonderful ride, Steve. RIP.

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