Thursday, October 6, 2011


... I use it every day.

Who could but celebrate a mind as endlessly inventive as that of Steven Jobs, and be moved by his death at so early an age to reflections on the impartiality of death? It's hard to comprehend the extent and radical depth of the changes this one man brought about in the world, and my own knowledge of technology is too limited for me to attempt an assessment. Instead, let me say a little about wrappings.

My first computer was a KayPro. I went out and bought it the first day after taking an introductory class in word-processing in 1985. I was the dean of the arts division at a local university at the time, and I had been hearing from my faculty about these magical new devices. I had, in fact, scoffed at them a bit, taking them merely for a new advance in the electric typewriter. But then, in a summer lull when there was not that much to keep me busy in the dean's office, I signed up for the class--and went out the next day to buy one. Knowing nothing, at the time, of the brewing rivalry between PC and Mac, I did a brief consumer check (no online search, of course!) and followed an enthusiastic recommendation for the Kaypro.

It was one of the first two "portable" computers--small suitcase size, and about as heavy as a fully packed one. I fell in love with it, wrote my first published novel on it. It had a tiny screen with bright green letters and its only game consisted of a bouncing ball. Even Pacman had not yet arrived on the scene. I lost another entire novel on that machine: noticing a deterioration in its performance, I took it in for repair and was told the main drive had been slowly slipping further out of alignment. Once realigned, though, it could no longer read the work I had painstakingly typed in on the misaligned drive. Poof! All gone! Fortunately I had made hard copies along the way; the art of "scanning" was just being commercially developed, and I had the pages scanned, at vast expense--and with huge numbers of errors that needed to be corrected.

But back to those wrappings. I worked for more than a decade on various PCs--notably a cheap Korean knockoff of the IBM. I had begun to hear about the marvelous Macintosh and its user-friendly ways; colleagues and friends kept insisting that it was far superior for the lay person's use, but I resisted. It had been enough of an effort to learn the workings of the PC, I told myself. I could not put myself through the agony of re-learning everything on the Mac. Then I was asked to participate in a project that required the use of one, and was provided with a brand new Apple laptop...

It was a revelation. As soon as I began to unwrap the packaging, I realized that this was something very different. Even the wrapping was a marvel of design. Everything fit perfectly in its place, from the laptop itself to all of is component parts and accessories. It was not only eminently practical in design, it was extraordinarily elegant. It was beautiful. I was seduced even before getting the machine hooked up and switched on. And when I did, of course, I realized that it was as excellent in design and function as the wrapping in which it was delivered.

Since then--perhaps ten years ago--I have been an Apple fan. I invested in another laptop, two more desktops. Ellie was enchanted with the I-Pod. It was packaged with the same excellent, understated elegance. I bought an I-Phone. Then, most recently, the I-Pad. These devices never cease to amaze me. The palm-sized I-Phone probably contains a thousand times more processing capacity than that old KayPro suitcase, barely two decades later. Maybe a million, I don't know. It tells me what the weather will be in London and updates me on the latest disaster on the stock market. It does my math for me, and plays me whatever music I might want to hear. (What, I often wonder, would a Mozart have made of this tiny box that could play every note he ever wrote?) It connects me instantaneously with anyone with whom I wish to speak, no matter where they may be; I can call them from the freeway or the bottom of the garden. And that's for starters...

There are others than Steven Jobs, of course, who must be credited with these miraculous advances in technology. But Jobs was the visionary whose mind would not be stopped, but kept moving on into new and previously unimagined territory. He changed the world, shaping the way in which digital technology now affects virtually every person on the planet. Few other human beings have had that opportunity. The fact that he achieved so much in so short a life span simply makes his influence more amazing. And what we see is no more than the wrapping.

1 comment:

CHI SPHERE said...

My boys were dismayed to hear of his passing and commented that his genius was the recognition that
elegance in design is like the surety of solutions in math.
They feel he is an equal to Tesla and Bucky Fuller. It is the first time they have expressed concern over the loss of a cultural icon.