Thursday, October 06, 2011

Goodbye, Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

And also, goodbye to the 20th century that has finally passed on a decade after it was scheduled to go. But I'll get to that in a while.

Meanwhile, goodbye, Steven P Jobs. I was a personal friend of his computers; more accurately, a friend of his personal computers. I grew up in an age where the Apple icon was valued as trend-setting, even if sometimes mocked and sometimes treated like a soon-to-be-dead loony relative in the family of information technology. I never knew Mr Jobs as much; he was just the god behind the machine.

My school's computer room had some of those Apple machines. It also had NEC PCs and Windows-running clones. To me, the Apples (the ][, ][+ and ][ europlus) with their boxy monitors were more fascinating than the high-resolution NEC monsters.

It was the triumph of my youth when my first Apple finally came home, a ][e which I had cajoled my parents into buying. I cannot remember exactly what relatively lunatic arguments were marshalled before the duumvirate of my skeptical parents, but they carried the day with minor provisions and I (and my siblings) had the computer I (we) wanted.

And so began the cavalcade of Apple machines — Ancient Eric, Adam, Calvin, Percy, Judith, Cami, Mackie, Nemo... they all had names. As with cats, dogs or horses, you had to name your faithful servants and companions. It was a sign of affection, something you didn't show to most of your other tools.

I raise a first glass to the memory of Steven Paul Jobs who made us name our machines as friends. In doing this, he was a direct heir of Isaac Asimov — and Jobs had to do without the advantage of the android form.

As the first glass falls into the fireplace, its last fuel scattering into green flames, I raise a second glass. Mr Jobs made us believe in the personal computer, not just the PC. But he also made us believe in the computer as a consumer necessity (or at least, object-of-desire), not just a focus for geekish techno-shamanism.

My third glass is for practicality. My Apple machines last. Not one has failed me except by old age; all have lived at least five years. I type this on a PowerBook G4 which is about 8 years old, and still my main machine and desktop companion.

Mourning is not a Jobsian kind of phenomenon. This is an Irish wake for an Armenian boy who turned out to be genetically Syrian/German. And here, abruptly terminated, and with many things unsaid, I say goodbye to Steve Jobs and go on to the death of the 20th century.

The century just past was Steve's century as well as the century of much that defines our world. We split the atom, broke the speed of sound, reached the moon, made thinking machines and machine guns. It was the age of machines; the British invented the first commercial mainframe computer (Ferranti, 1951), the first commercial aircraft (Comet, 1952), the first commercial nuclear power station (Colney Hatch, 1956) and the first commercial supersonic jet (Concorde, 1976) — and the Americans and Russians raced ahead to get us into space and to the moon.

Along the way, we learnt the use of non-ferrous metals in construction and engineering — especially aluminium and titanium; we learnt to use plastics, those ubiquitous offshoots of the petrochemical industry; we mass-produced food and food packaging. Behind the rise of the information age were less obvious heroes. And one of those heroes was the driven and perceptive Steve Jobs. (How many glasses so far? Better start on the coffee soon. A man's gotta work.)

I sense that we are teetering now on the cusp of revolution, but with a lot less fire in the hole and passion in the heart. This is not the age of big projects, as financial pessimism damps the clamour of progress. The space shuttle has returned to Earth. Mr Jobs has died.

Life will go on. But the mood at present is a post-20th century one. We walk into a world quantised and bereft of meaning by that quantisation. How fortunate are we who are in the world but not of it!

Goodbye, Steven Paul Jobs. You left the world a much more colourful and interesting place. You didn't define your age, but you gave it a brighter and sharper definition. Rest in peace. May you find yourself in the Isle of Apples, where also lie Arthur and other symbols of human hope.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Albrecht Morningblade said...

Jobs brought us Star Trek fans closer to the reality we desire, where we could interact more intuitively with our machines, with his iPhone & iPad.

Who will now give computers grace now that he is gone? Sigh.

If all beings are connected, then it explains why I feel as if I have lost something important.

I'd join you in raising yet another glass to a great man.

Thursday, October 06, 2011 4:26:00 pm  

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