What a sad, sad day today is.
I found out just before I went to bed last night during my usual pre-lights-out Twitter check and there, right at the top of my stream, was the news that technological visionary Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, father of Pixar and inventor of the device I was holding in my hand, had died at the age of 56.
Apple.com this morning.
Such upsetting news. The funny thing is, I used to be a PC girl whose only Apple-related activity were the derisive snorts I threw in their direction.
The launch of Windows ’95 was the first time I remember anyone getting excited about something to do with computers, and it spurred me into a phase of reading every book I could about Silicon Valley. I was mildly obsessed with Gates and the origins of Microsoft and so, when our first home computer arrived in 1998 – I was 16 – I worshipped it like it was atop an altar, even though it was a Compaq Presario running Windows ’98 with a 2GB hard drive and a floppy disk drive. (Remember those?!) From there I progressed onto my own Dell laptop (for, ahem, schoolwork, of course) and then a Hewlett-Packard.
By that stage, Apple computers had become the psychedelic iMacs and iMacbooks, which looked to me like Fisher Price toys that were trying too hard. Why would you want to carry your laptop around like a bag, and why would you want it to be orange? And they were so expensive. I became convinced that Macs were just for Apple fanboys with too much money and too little sense, the kind who watched unboxing videos and camped out overnight just to be the first in the queue for a insignificant software upgrade. In fact, I became such a cheerleader for Windows PCs that I could’ve been in one of those awful “I’m a PC ads.”
In the midst of all this, I bought an iPod. I was in Holland in the summer of 2005 and for my birthday, I forked out something like the frightening sum of €270 for a pink iPod Mini – and then promptly discovered that it couldn’t run with my outdated version of Windows. Ugh – I’d been proven right! Mac products looked good, but in practice they were a pain in the arse. I liked that my iPod was pink and fit in my pocket and had a cool touch-dial thingy, but I couldn’t upload any songs to it until I got a new PC. ENORMOUS APPLE FAIL.
Then in March 2009, I somehow ended up buying a Macbook. (This Macbook.) I needed a new computer, I had money and Apple had just dropped their prices; everything added up. So I melted my credit card in exchange for a sleek, white box – my first clue that something was very different. My Dell PC had arrived in a box the size of a small car; my Macbook was in packaging you’d barely fit a pair of ankle boots into. I opened it to discover the Mac, a power cable, two CDs, a cleaning cloth and a small, square booklet smaller than a CD case. Oh, and an Apple logo sticker. Um, just where was everything else? Where were all the leaflets, manuals, warranties, discs, partridge and a pear tree, hmm? I turned on the Mac and stared at something alien, foreign and unfamiliar: a blank desktop.
What IS this thing?
In fairness, my new Macbook and I were not without our teething problems – it took me a while to get used to no Start Menu, etc. and of course the commands were very different. But I liked it. Thing is, I didn’t realize how much I liked it – how I could now never live without it – until about three months in, when I had to, for some reason, go use a PC.
First there was the wait. You turn on the computer, but it comes on five to ten minutes later after a cacophony of whirrs and clicks and fan blades. Then there’s the messing with the Start Menu: just four easy clicks start your chosen program! And it second guesses every single thing you want to do – it’s like working with someone whose job it is to insult your intelligence. Are you sure you want to save this file? Are you really sure? Are you really, really sure? Really? This is your last chance… Well, okay, if you’re absolutely positively sure, select “Save” from this drop-down menu and then click “Okay.” And then maybe I’ll save it. We’ll see. I might just crash instead.
(And don’t even get me started on MS Word. Using it to do anything even slightly complicated is a battle of wills between you and the computer – it’s like you want to create one document and it wants to create another. You move an image from one side of the page to the other and BAM! Your entire document suddenly looks like bad impressionism. While I’m on the subject, people always say there’s no point using Mac/Pages because most of the world using MS Word. Well, do you know what? Pages has a “Save as a MS Word doc” option, and Pages will read Word. Yeah. That’s how clever it is.)
I ran back to my Mac, and promised I would never betray it again. Because now I understood. I had seen the light. (Or the apple…) Yes, Macs cost more, but it’s not (just) because they look fancier or come in nicer boxes.
It’s because they’re better, and infinitely so.
Imagine: you’re a PC manufacturer in competition with loads of other PC manufacturers, so you need to get your price down. An easy way to do this is to partner with software companies who will pay for the privilege of having their programs shipped with each unit. This means that the PC costs a lot less than the Mac (who don’t have to compete with anybody and so don’t get kickbacks from a boatload of people they let pay to come along for the ride), yes, but it also means that when you first boot up your computer, you are met with a desktop littered with icons for programs you don’t want or need, programs who will send you constant registration and/or upgrade reminders unless you delete them, and considering they have an icon and a place on the Start Menu and their actual program files, that’ll be a treasure hunt where the odds of success are stacked against you. If you do manage to delete them, you’re still left with a machine that was made by one company, an operating system that was made by another and software that was made by a whole bunch of other somebodies. How can they all possibly work harmoniously together? They can’t. And that’s why PCs take ages to come on, crash frequently and are generally a pain in the arse to use. If you don’t think this is true, I can only assume it’s because you haven’t used a Mac for any length of time. You don’t know yet – as I didn’t – that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Take fifteen minutes to watch Jobs’ Stanford commencement address from 2005. You won’t regret it.
I never turn my Mac off; I just close it and put it to sleep. It wakes right back up when I open it up again. My machine was made by the same company that made the operating system that made the software. I use only two non-Apple programs: Microsoft Office for Mac (which has a “Break Open in Case of Emergency” sign on it; I try not to use it) and the Kindle reading app. My Macbook has one button on it that isn’t part of the keyboard: the power button. The power cable is magnetic so if you do the old walk-into-the-cable-and-drag-the-computer-off-the-table trick, the cable will just give way and your Mac will stay where it is. (I laughed when I saw that cable this morning, pictured below – when I pulled it out of my Mac it didn’t even fall to the ground; the little clip under the head held it at the edge of my desk, ready and waiting for me when I come back. Jobs is in the details.) It never crashes and I can count on one hand how many times it’s frozen up on me. It’s brilliant, and worth every penny – or cent – of its price tag.
And best of all, when I tell it to do something, it says “Okay.”
A few weeks ago when Twitter was ablaze with news that Jobs had stepped down from his role as Apple CEO, one person in my stream asked, “What’s the big deal?” Well aside from the sad fact that this meant that Jobs was sick to a degree that he hadn’t been before, the sudden downward trajectory of Apple’s stock told the real story: it was a big deal because Jobs was Apple. He was the one with the vision, the genius; all the best ideas were his. If someone else had a great idea, it took Jobs to mold it and shape it and refine it until it became a new iPod, iPhone or iPad.
I read a tweet last night that thanked him for letting us live in the future, and I add my thanks.
Technology has been moving so fast in the last ten, twenty years that every three or so we completely forget what the landscape looked like before. We say things like iTunes, apps and iPhone like we’ve always said them, but they’re still so new they’re shiny. I often think back to the day I saw a Space Shuttle launch in Florida, about how once we left the hotel and the radio in our car, we knew no more about what was going on over at the Cape. We could only wait and see if it would go, or get someone who was watching the news at home to send us a text message. None of us had cell phones that did anything other than send and receive calls and texts, and maybe did a little bit of painful internet searching. It was October 2007. If that same event happened today, I’d be able to watch NASA TV live, record the launch on video and upload it to YouTube, post it on Facebook, tweet about it, etc. etc. and all from the one device, a device that sits in my palm: the iPhone.
I got this Macbook in March 2009 which means that everything I’ve done in my writing career to date has been done on this machine. I wrote all my books in Pages; I blogged and self-published through Safari; I made all my book trailers with iMovie. When it comes to making decisions about what to write and how to sell it, I always cite my favorite Jobs quote: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
When you insist on pursuing a path that’s deemed risky and unlikely to lead to success, like making a living as a novelist, it’s tempting to give up. When everyone around you says “This isn’t going to happen,” the easy thing to do is to believe them. Jobs is a shining example of why you shouldn’t. As he said in his Stanford address, referring to how dropping out of college led, through a calligraphy class, to changing the landscape of word processing forever, he said:
“If I have never dropped out [of college], I would never have dropped in on that calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards, ten years later … You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: gut, destiny, your life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”
A headline I read just before I started writing this said, “World mourns Steve Jobs” and it’s true, and justified; what other individual, what other single person, can claim to have changed our world so much with his life as he has? No one in recent memory. Jobs was the best example of what happens when you align your profession with your passion and, in his words, “stay hungry.” Not only did he spend his life doing a job he loved, but what that produced enabled us to do the jobs we loved as well, and do them better, and do them without spending half an hour each morning tearing out our own hair while we waited for Windows to boot up.
The word “inspiration” just doesn’t seem like enough.
Neither do the words “thank you.”
But thank you, Steve.
(Okay, okay – I’ll admit it: I watched an iPad unboxing video. Happy now?!)