2011 – A Final Word About Steve Jobs

Now, as I write this, I am hearing this heart-wrenching yet uplifting song sung by a large, probably pre-adolescent choir in unison, in a whole lot of reverb, like they are in a stone church or a Lexicon 4800 “Huge Room” setting, with the decay cranked up.

I have no idea where this comes from just now.

Just now, I was contemplating my farewell to Steve Jobs. Maybe his spirit carries a choral crowd along with it, so that his son will know he was so cool some might call him sacred. Pardon: his children, rather. Or, is it his son? How many kids did Steve Jobs have, anyway? Don’t ask him. Do we know they (him) are his? Umph;; sorry I asked. It was tasteless, and a giveaway.

I’m not all that carried away by Steve Jobs, alive or dead.

I’m glad he ‘thought differently’ and that he acomplished his vision. No doubt, the fact that he did so makes life a tiny bit more flexible, endurable, comfortable, maybe doable for the rest of us. I’m horrified at what I see of his personality, The fact that this success – carrying out his vision – seemed to cost Mr Jobs much of his life experiences, and may have contributed to its ending prematurely is certainly discouraging to anyone on the edge of the woods, considering the path not taken.

I’m particularly put off by the culture his innovative inventions spawned. The early Macs – so easy to use, intuitively organized, enjoyably flexible and forgiving and at least as functional as the PCs of the time – were prohibitively expensive. Their professional software – Microsoft Word, File-Maker, various text editors (I can only remember BB) – produced documents that were non-transferrable to PCs, including textfiles. And they were promoted with a treacly cuteness that made me yearn for fingernails on blackboards.

Directories weren’t directories, but “folders”. They weren’t organized. There was no “root”. You could ‘nest’ folders within folders, but you were encouraged to ‘just name them and put them on your desktop where they’re most convenient’. Which meant that, if you needed to find a document on a colleague’s machine, it could be named anything, and be anywhere. Sometimes, the colleague couldn’t find it.

Apple made every element of your Macintosh. There were no third-party vendors. Eventually, modems could be purchased that, with Mac cable adapters, would function. And once you were on the internet, everything there was available to you. But still, downloadable applications, unless specifically engineered for Macs, were useless, And practically none were. Then as now, Mac users totaled less than 5% of the market.

And you couldn’t cludge these applications yourself. The mysteries of the Motorola chip were guarded closer than Masonic ritual. To penetrate the software, first, you had to penetrate a cult. I met three people I didn’t like, three icky, smug, “Well, not exactly” people, and gave up.

On the other hand, there was software that was programmable, kind of. Hypercard, and also FileMaker, incorporated scripting languages that were as powerful as Visual Basic and, once interpreted (into MotorolaSpeak by the program), fast enough to use. So once you got used to being Off The Grid, Making Your Own and Trusting The Mac, you could get anything you needed to done.

I used Macs from the mid 80’s to the end of the 90’s, first as the front end of various audio editing and manipulating devices; then, in the mid 90’s as a multimedia development platform. All the imagery was generated on Macs, and it was easiest for me to access and manipulate it if I kept it in the Mac world. But eventually, I encountered problems from users, who were presenting on PCs. They couldn’t execute some commands I’d written on the Mac. I bought a PC, and felt I’d been let out of a cage – but into a savage land, that didn’t understand the nuances that defined culture, and made civilization elegant.

The smug Mac cutsieness lasted maybe a decade. I don’t pretend to be a journalist or historian, so I don’t know dates, but I’m willing to bet the cutesies disappeared with the emergence of the “i”.

So demure. So self-effacing, that lower-case ideogram, How many associations can you attach to this letter/image? O, absolute genius.

iPod. iPad. iPhone. All I see is |i|. The mathematical representation of “absolute” i. Lowercase, uppercase, negative, positive, there you have it. I. The complete apotheosis of the self-absorbed asethete. Put in my earbuds and don’t bother me, I’m digging |i|.

I never met Steve Jobs. He could have been a sweetheart – kind, receptive, intuitive, always talks to you on your level, always listens to your voice. I’m sure he was terribly busy all the time. People who live like that tend to appear brusque and dismissive, of course. And, they tend to not eat enough. And I didn’t read his biography. Yet. I’m still … thinking, and I don’t want to have to read Gates’ and Wozniak’s, too. Enough, already.

But I did read somewhere that Jobs was captivated by the audio products of Bang & Olufson. Not only are they “audiophile” electronics (meaning that their promotional material includes specs on variables that are indistinguishable by humans), but their very stylish products are priced at least five times above their value as electronic components.

Even if I could afford them, I wouldn’t have them in my home.

 

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