What is a writer’s blog doing commenting on Steve Jobs. Well, perhaps it’s because his biological sister is the novelist Mona Simpson, who moderated a discussion for MPW with David Ulin last year.
More importantly though, it is because Steve Jobs infinitely changed the world of writers and storytellers. Rather than list the litany of his “a priori” gagdetry achievements, I applaud Steve Jobs, because today, I would not be typing these words on this blog if it were not for Steve Jobs.
Jobs made the word processor a daily part of life. But more than that, the Apple Computer became a staple of classrooms from the 80s onward. I remember the mystical experience of sitting in front of the Apple IIE (above) and taking typing lessons and words-per-minute challenges. It taught me to not only embrace the machine, but to find in it a kind of inspirational feedback, daring me to push myself to my limit like a stopwatch to a sprinter. To this day when I see someone who didn’t grow up with that feedback and who is struggling to eek out a few words with two typing fingers, I think of Steve Jobs.
The feedback loop followed me through high school. I learned how to do accounting on an early Mac spreadsheet. I did my first newspaper layouts on Macs running Quark. I worked with filmmakers sitting for hours on end using Final Cut Pro, Apple’s proprietary film editing software. At each stage, Steve Jobs made me a better person by being the best of who he was.
But Steve Jobs didn’t just provide me the skills for telling stories; he was instrumental in ushering those stories into our popular culture. As an early employee of Atari, he and his friend, Steve Wozniak, assembled the most advanced circuit boards for the video game, Breakout. Much later, when the Macintosh was being introduced, he funded and supported Ridley Scott’s vision for the most famous television commercial in history, 1984 (below). Currently, his Apple Store is one of the leading places to purchase movies and TV shows.
However, those achievements are dwarfed by one single investment. In 1986, George Lucas had lost money on the massive flop “Howard the Duck.” He decided to liquidate parts of his burgeoning special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic. One of the money-losing arms was a computer graphics company that had its own creative visionaries to match Steve Jobs. Those visionaries were Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, and the company Steve purchased was Pixar. In classic Jobs fashion, he not only purchased it, but also fed it with his endless optimism and determination until it became, well, Pixar.
The legend would be incomplete, however, without a word about his other records. Steve Jobs left much to be desired as a responsible citizen of the world. He turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses in the Chinese factories making Apple products. He stopped donating to charity, calling such activities a “distraction.”
But Steve Jobs was a true visionary who knew what he was meant to do, and that was to turn the tech world into simply “the world.” He sought to give the machine a human feel, an idea present from the very first Macintosh, which he programmed to speak the words, “Never trust a computer you can’t lift.” Because of him, we have ubiquitous computers we do carry everywhere creating new stories everyday.