It’s the little things

You’ve by now probably all seen Apple’s home page which, in a week they’re launching a new iPhone revision, is nevertheless dominated by their memorial to their founder and leader. That’s classy.

What you may not have noticed unless you’re really nerdy is that the photo of Steve has the name “t_hero.png”.

Computing pioneers, like rock stars, are all mostly postwar baby boomers. Actually, the rock stars — the first ones, like the Beatles Jobs idolized — are a bit older, which is hilarious. In either case, though, we’re on the narrow leading edge of a demographic inevitability. The next 20 to 30 years will be costly in terms of musical and technological giants, but I’m a bit at a loss to figure any whose loss we’ll all feel as acutely as this one.

Say what you will about the remaining Beatles or the Stones, but their best work is undeniably years behind them — Jobs was still churning out vastly influential hits.

He was able to do this because, as he was fond of quoting, he liked Apple to “skate to where the puck will be.” He started doing this very early. From a 1985 interview he gave with Playboy — when he was all of 31 — we find an early example. Younger Heathen (are there any?) may find it hard to believe, but back then the broad reaction to computers was “well, they’re cool, I guess, but what can you do with them that’s useful?”

Playboy: Those are arguments for computers in business and in schools, but what about the home?

Jobs: So far, that’s more of a conceptual market than a real market. The primary reasons to buy a computer for your home now are that you want to do some business work at home or you want to run educational software for yourself or your children. If you can’t justify buying a computer for one of those two reasons, the only other possible reason is that you just want to be computer literate. You know there’s something going on, you don’t exactly know what it is, so you want to learn. This will change: Computers will be essential in most homes.

Playboy: What will change?

Jobs: The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people‐‑as remarkable as the telephone.

Playboy: Specifically, what kind of breakthrough are you talking about?

Jobs: I can only begin to speculate. We see that a lot in our industry: You don’t know exactly what’s going to result, but you know it’s something very big and very good.

Now, the Internet existed in 1985 — I got my first email address only two years later — but it was nerdland, and very few were thinking even a little bit that grandmothers might use it to look at pictures of their grandkids someday. Apparently, Jobs was in that crowd, which is how we find ourselves with devices today that delight instead of confound, and how, odds are, you learned about his passing on a device he made. Lots of you will read this post on one, too.

Godspeed, Steve. We’ll miss you.

(It’s proper to note that, given the twin legacies he’ll leave, Bill Gates may well be the runner up here. His contribution to computing hasn’t been as dramatically evolutionary or as prolonged as Jobs’, but his business savvy and technical acumen did much to make business computing a foregone conclusion. His real legacy, though, may turn out to be the fact that after having founded Microsoft and become the richest man in the world — a title theretofore usually held by inheritors of wealth, not self-made men — he decided to take on a new, ambitious humanitarian mission instead of settling into a very expensive and luxurious retirement.

But nobody ever stood in line for a new copy of Windows.)

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