At Apple.com today is an obituary. It is absolutely done in the Apple style; it’s simple, it’s graphically arresting — and it is also startling, almost unbelievable.
Steve Jobs is dead.
When I heard the news that he had stepped down, I was almost in tears, something my mother couldn’t understand. She was happy for him; he’d worked so hard for so long, she wished him a happy retirement. That wasn’t my first thought; my first thought was: he’s dying, and he knows it; he literally can’t run the company any more.
Why was that my first thought? Because it’s exactly the way I’ll retire from writing. Writing is my job, but it’s also my obsession, my compulsion, my avocation. I will stop when they pry my rigor-clenched fingers from my keyboard. I will never reach the millions of people Steve Jobs did, but that’s almost beside the point.
Is writing always a joy? No, of course not. Neither are children – especially on the day after the presentation of a stomach ‘flu when you’ve done 3 loads of laundry at 2:00 a.m., you’ve gotten no sleep yourself, and you know you’re going to pay for it. But you love them anyway, and the worst thing that could possibly happen is that they could be taken away from you. There seems to be an idea that love is always joy. I don’t subscribe to it. I do, however, believe that it is the greatest source of joy – and of work, of pain, of longing, of peace.
This sounds amazingly melodramatic. I know it does. So let me explain what Steve Jobs’ start-up lab-in-a-garage company means – and has meant – to me.
My bedroom is shared, my office is shared, my closet space and dresser space – all shared. My books, to a lesser extend – the ones I bought, not the ones I wrote – are also shared. Food I buy is shared. Even the hours of sleep – especially when the kids were young – were not my own. But everybody needs a bit of privacy, even if they’re otherwise happy to be encased in a family home.
A computer is a room of my own. It is the only space I own that belongs entirely to me. It’s not a physical space, but I don’t have that, and never have. It’s a space carved out for my thoughts, my words, my email, my bits of trivia, even my music. It’s mine, it’s an oasis to which I retreat. It has a figurative door, and so many windows out into the world, and I can open or close them without asking anyone else if it’s okay.
In the early years of Mac OS, no two Macs looked the same – the desktop pictures were different, the icons, the system fonts, even the way menus were arranged. Mine was no exception.
It was my space. I could decorate it. I could fuss over it. I could look at it and think that the shelves were becoming too damn crowded, and decide, for purely selfish reasons, what could – or could not – be thrown out to make more room.
Much fun has been made of people who choose a computer for its external design sensibility. I don’t see why — people choose houses, clothing and cars for more than just simple functionality. A computer is not a simple commodity for me — it’s where I work. It’s part of where I live. It’s a large part of how I keep in touch with my various communities. The programs housed in it reflect my sensibilities across a broad spectrum.
There is nothing inanimate that I love quite so much as my tech, and this is why: it’s a room of my own. It’s a personal space, from which I create things that I can share. It’s part of the way I work and live.
Steve Job’s not-so-little company designed, engineered and sold millions of the stylish small boxes. They were mass-produced, of course, but the act of choosing one was the act of transforming everything about it that wasn’t fixed, that wasn’t engineered. Opening a Mac box and taking out all of the bits and pieces packed therein was almost ceremonial — but it was a gleeful, joyful, hopeful, personal ceremony. It was pure squee.
I never met the man. I never sent him email. But he has honestly had as much of an effect on my life, through his own work, as many of the people I have, so I am going to grieve in my own small way.