Thursday, October 6, 2011

I never met Steve

Steve Jobs died.

I have noticed three categories of reactions to this. First are the feelings of his family and close friends. I don’t know about his family, but here are some remembrances by colleagues. Their feelings are the most important right now.

The second category is the gauche comments made by people who don’t like that Steve Jobs used alternative medicines or didn’t practice the right religion or by people who say that Apple stuff is all going to suck now or by people who just don’t like Macs. I saw someone on Twitter say, “whenever a celebrity dies twitter turns into this big group of people all trying to jam the same turd into one toilet.”

The third category is the feelings of people who never met Steve Jobs, never knew him personally but who have had their lives made better by things that he made. I like this story, Chair shared by Adam Lisagor when Steve Jobs resigned as CEO, about a visit to Apple’s campus when Adam got to see Steve Jobs in person.

Since I got my first Mac and iPod six years ago, I’ve only spent a tiny fraction of my life more than ten feet from an Apple product. I spend most of my waking hours using an Apple product, my computer, iPad, or listening to podcasts on my iPod touch. As a person in the third category, I am sad that Steve died, and his death feels strangely personal to me. For me, this is different from most celebrity deaths. although I never met Steve, the things that he helped make occupy an intimate part of my life.

Steve Jobs said, “What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” That is, humans are physically wimpy compared with many animals, but a human on a bicycle is able to use the least amount of energy to move a kilometer of any animal. Bicycles are not just valuable because they make long trips shorter; they also make it easier to go on trips that wouldn’t have been worth trying before.

One of the most remarkable things about Apple products is how easy it is to share information between them. I have trouble remembering to do things, keeping track of my grocery list and what I need to do in my research, and so on. I have an anxiety disorder. Organizing my tasks and time made me about a third less anxious. Apple products made this easier: all the things I would be nervous about forgetting are on my computer and in my pocket.

Mac OS X is remarkable: I use it because it’s an operating system with all the power of Unix (which I need to do my research) and incredible usability. If I couldn’t use Apple products, I would have a much more difficult time doing my work in modeling and analyzing the physics of cells.

My Apple devices are bicycles for my mind: they make it so I don’t have to think about a lot of things that I don’t need to and make it easier for me to think about things that are important and difficult.

When people die, the effects of what they did still live on. Some people are saying that with Steve Jobs gone, Apple products are going to start sucking. They’re wrong. More than making Apple products, Steve Jobs made Apple and NeXT (he owned Pixar for a while, too). No one person can make an iPod. Steve Jobs was a leader who did not try to make copies of himself; an example of this is the difference between him and Tim Cook, the new Apple CEO. Instead, he led teams of people to cooperate to make amazing products. He also led a lot of other people, like me, by giving us tools we use to communicate with each other and to make our own great works. When I use Apple products, I am inspired by how useful they are, but also how beautiful; I want to do my work even more carefully and present my work more elegantly. The people at Apple are going to keep designing and inventing new things, and Apple users are going to keep doing the same. We’ll miss Steve.

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