About This Mac: Steve Jobs

The Great Humanizer of Technology

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I had just slipped inside the huddled confines of a crowded restaurant on an unusually brisk Wednesday evening here in LA, pushing my way to the front to get my name on the waiting list to treat my mother to supper. The place was bustling, the smells emanating from the kitchen whetting the appetite immediately. And yet everyone's gaze was turned to a nearby TV on mute. A photo of Steve Jobs with "1955-2011" displayed gave way to a montage of photos of Jobs throughout the years, making it evident Apple's first and best had passed...

The news was surprisingly affecting. I had never known Mr. Jobs, never had an opportunity to meet him in person. But here I was feeling the recognizable pang of loss normally reserved for those closer to me. In time, I realized the loss was connected to what characterized everything Jobs had accomplished, whether for Apple, NEXT or Pixar: he had humanized our experience with technology so greatly, we had all grown to feel like we had known him through the smallest details of the products he helped bring to our hands.

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Friends working at Apple referred to him in reverence and oftentimes with a tinge of fear. But the emotion wasn't so much born out of avoiding Jobs's wrath (which was indeed legendary), but rather a fear of not living up to the lofty ideals Jobs challenged all to rise to meet: offer the most elegant solutions usable by all. In this way, Steve Jobs changed the world many times over, whether it be through the popularization of the mouse, defining and refining the graphical user interface, bringing typography front and center into the world of computing (and thus forever changing the world of graphic design), or helping reshape the landscape of music with the introduction of the iPod.

"Focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

But perhaps most importantly, Jobs's greatest contribution to technology wasn't always what he added, but what he took away. His reductive intuition led him to promote designs where tech specifications were secondary to the sensory relationship between device and user. Apple devotees always remark how their device makes them feel, alongside how they actually feel, a combination of the emotional and tactile. Love them or hate them, the iMac, iPhone, MacBook Air or iPod were never mistaken for another manufacturer's offerings. With a keen understanding of the relationship between form and function, and a willingness to drop unnecessary features or components (often years before competitors), Jobs's minimalist philosophy ultimately characterized Apple designs as elegant solutions to be enjoyed rather than complex questions to be solved, a failing of great many devices these days.

"Picasso had a saying: 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas...I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world."

And so it wasn't a crime in Jobs's eyes that your grandmother could pick up an iPad and starting watching Netflix or shoot off her first email...it was his ultimate goal. Such simplification has ironically proven nearly impossible for anyone to duplicate, because reductive design as Jobs extols requires equal parts science and humanities, an understanding of humanity first, machines second. Computers glow and glimmer with lights mimicking the heartbeat, laptops tempt you to run your fingers along the seamless edges, the phone now answers questions, follows tasks via verbal command. Something tells me Jobs would have identified with replicant-genetic designer Dr. Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner. It's no surprise a great many Apple owners think of their Cupertino devices as indispensable companions rather than replaceable gadgets, such is the close relationship formed between user and technology.

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For at the heart of Apple, at the core of Steve Jobs, was a love of the humanities. Of humanity. Forever an optimist, Jobs believed technology was only a tool to further and improve human expression, whether through word, the graphic arts, music, and even our gestures. Steve Jobs didn't change technology, he showed us how technology could change our lives with first a mouse click, later a swipe.

Jobs once remarked, "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me...Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful...that's what matters to me." Steve Jobs accomplished many wonderful things, defining an era where notably my own mother sent a message via iChat so we could meet to have the very dinner with which I began this post. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

Sleep well, Mr. Jobs...sleep well.




Some thoughts from Maxwell:

There are only a few inspirations that I drew from in founding Apartment Therapy, and one was Steve Jobs work at Apple and Next. Not that I was passionate about computers at the time, but I was deeply inspired by the creative, irreverent, outside of the box spirit that drove the early Apple and which Steve Jobs picked back up when he returned.

I remember being amazed at the whole layout of the first Apple campus, how managers would often hold meetings out of doors and how "management" was an ongoing experiment that sought to mine the best of the laid back California lifestyle and high zen-like standards.

And I remember Ross Perot, deeply impressed by Steve Jobs, saying that Steve would spend as much time worrying about the design of the power cord as he would the design of the computer itself. It was this attention to detail and beauty that separated Apple from the rest of the world.

While I can't hold a candle to that, deep inside the heart of Apartment Therapy his heart is still beating.

From all of us at Apartment Therapy, we send our thanks, gratitude and best wishes to Steve Jobs on his next journey.

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan
Founder, Apartment Therapy

[Illustration by Charis Tsevis. Photos: The Bigger Picture: Thirty Years of Portraits by Diane Walker; Creative Commons Photo - raneko]

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