The Apple II had a keyboard that can only be described as satisfying. I loved the way the keys felt under my fingers the resistance as I pressed down and the chunky click as they finally gave way and I still have the muscle memory in my hands that reminds me of the experience. It was 1983, I was at my cousin Mark’s house in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I was playing Mystery House on his Mark’s computer, enjoying every minute of the brief turn I got to sit at the computer and type instead of yelling out excited suggestions for our next move.
When I returned home to Virginia, my coveting began in earnest. I looked at my Atari 800XL computer and its glacial cassette tape drive, and tried to convince myself that waiting half an hour to play a game of Blue Max was every bit as cool as using Mark’s floppy disk drive to boot up HMS Impetuous, The Oregon Trail, or any of the other games we played until the early hours of the morning.
When Macintosh came out in 1984, I knew I needed one. I never got a Mac proper, but when Santa gave me an Apple //c for Christmas, I was in heaven. I ended up with two floppy drives, an Imagewriter II printer, a KoalaPad graphics tablet, an Apple II joystick, and countless games. I spent nights and weekends in front of that computer, and just when I thought I wouldn’t be able to spend any more of my time using it, I got an Apple Personal Modem 300. Once I’d discovered Bulletin Board Systems like Tidewater Virginia’s Apple Crate BBS, I pretty much cemented the possibility that my middle and high school years would be girl-free1.
There was something special about using that computer. Or, rather, a series of somethings special that integrated into a holistic experience the end result of which is that I enjoyed using the computer for the sake of using the computer, regardless of what I was doing with it. This was a truism that I again became cognizant of many years later when working in OS X for the first time.
By the late 1980s, I’d written more papers on that computer than I care to consider, watching each page print out in dot-matrixy glory at a blazingly fast two pages per minute. When I packed for my first year of college, the Apple //c came with me, by then over half a decade old, but comfortable, useful, and somehow almost a part of my identity.
If that sounds silly, it might be that you’ve never owned an Apple product. That little Apple //c found a place in my identity. It was a daily part of my life, and one that helped me in the aspects of my life that were important at the time, from work to play, and I grew accustomed to it. The same can be said for all the subsequent Apple hardware and software I’ve ever bought 2 the iPods; the Powerbooks, iBooks, MacBook Pros, and iMacs; the iPhones; the iPads they’ve all been regular parts of my day that let me do or experience something I wanted to, and they did so in a way that was enjoyable, intuitive, stress-free, reliable, and beautiful.
This week, when the news broke that Steve Jobs had died after a years-long struggle with pancreatic cancer, many seemed surprised that makeshift memorials were being created at Apple stores around the world. People left flowers and floppy disks on the ground and placed Post-It notes on the windows. Commentators noted that Steve Jobs’ death evoked that of a celebrity in the true grief it seemed to exact from the public.
It’s unsurprising, though, if you’ve had the same kinds of experiences I’ve had those daily interactions with gorgeous and usable products that manipulate how we experience the world in such a way that we can’t ever imagine going back to how things were before. Steve Jobs, more than anyone else, was directly responsible for those interactions and their sum total, and therefore the new ways we view the world and experience it. Steve Jobs had a direct and sizable impact on the lives of anyone who used Apple products more than just passingly, and his absence is something that makes us wonder if we’ll ever have similar experiences again.
I don’t think we’re afraid of a world without Steve Jobs. I think we’re afraid that our view of that world will never again be changed like it was, once.
1 Somehow, my wonderful wife saw through the layers of Total Nerd.
2 Honey, if you’re reading this, please don’t do the math to figure out how much all that stuff has cost.