Yes, Virginia, There Is A Steve Jobs


This is one of those times when, for all my skills as a writer, my own words are woefully inadequate, and the best I can do is borrow from those better than I.


“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say Steve Jobs is dead.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is Steve Jobs gone?
“VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see online. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Steve Jobs. He exists as certainly as intuition and genius and innovation exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Steve Jobs. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, not even in sense and sight. The eternal light with which creativity fills the world would be extinguished.

Believe Steve Jobs is dead! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch at Infinite Loop for Steve Jobs, but even if they did not see Steve Jobs coming in, what would that prove? You may not see Steve Jobs yourself, but that is no sign that there is no Steve Jobs. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the iPhone and see what processor it has inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that reality distortion field and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

Steve Jobs dead?! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of the crazy ones.

Still Crazy After All These Years


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I remember when Steve Jobs came back.

I was working in Indianola  then, and was still very much one of the Mac faithful, despite it being a very dark time.

There was no reason that his return should have brought hope. Apple was, in fact, in bad shape. (Wired’s famous “Pray” cover was during this era — after Steve’s return, even.) And Steve’s latest venture, NeXT, while apparently technically competent, wasn’t exactly revolutionizing the world. (Nor yet was his side venture, a little company he’d bought from George Lucas named Pixar.)

But bring hope it did.

At first, the signs Apple was different, was more Apple than it had been being, were superficial. For all its grammatical offensiveness, “Think Different” just felt right. As did the underdog-fodder “Here’s To The Crazy Ones.”

And then came the more concrete signs. It was easy to believe change had arrived when the first iMacs appeared, with their convention-defying bubble shape and friendly colors. But we knew things were different when that same design aesthetic started appearing in everything from power strips to kitchen appliances. Apple was relevant again.

Over the next decade, relevant would become an understatement. Apple not only influenced, it shaped and eventually dominated. The company never returned to its first-Steve-era place as the leader of the home computer market. Instead, it made that fact unimportant. Rather than try to recapture that particular market, Apple simply repeated the same trick — creating new markets, and dominating them. And, this time, it learned lessons that had cost it the PC market, and avoided the same mistakes.

We’d been mocked. Now, the Apple logo was ubiquitous, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world. For the faithful, it was vindication. For Steve, I can only imagine.

I have confidence in Tim Cook. He has demonstrated that he can provide strong business leadership for Apple.

And right now, Steve remains on as chairman at Apple. His voice is still present; his insight still contributed.

And this is good.

Because while I have no question that Apple and its current leadership will have no problem maintaining the same levels of business acumen and technological genius, it’s the intangible I worry about.

Steve’s greatest unparalleled and world-changing skill since his return has been the ability to see what is, and to see what it could be. To look at a Walkman and see an iPod. To look at a cell phone and see an iPhone. Apple’s future is ultimately going to rest in whether the company can continue that almost-counter-intuitive innovation.

The news may have struck me differently on a different day, but yesterday, after hearing about the failure of a Soyuz rocket that morning and some of the vagaries of my personal life, it hit me hard when I heard on my way to church last night that Steve had resigned.

And it ultimately came down to this —

The world seems a little less magic.

Did Steve Jobs Just Kill The Web?


Did Steve Jobs just kill the World Wide Web?

Maybe. Kind of.

You could make the argument that he didn’t because he was too late. At least you could if you were Wired Magazine. Back in August, Wired published a very interesting piece  titled The Web Is Dead. Love Live the Internet which argued that the Web is past its prime, due to a combination of two factors.

First, they said, Web traffic is increasingly coalescing around a handful of sites. Most notably, Facebook has essentially created a parallel Web, in which a huge amount of information is organized and accessed all through one site. When you go on Facebook, you’re no longer just seeing your friends’ statuses. You’re playing games and watching videos and reading news and any number of other things. All the benefits of the Web, without leaving the comfort of Facebook.

The other factor Wired cited was the growth of apps on mobile devices (and now tablets). On my computer, when I go to Twitter, on my computer, I go to twitter.com. On the web. On my iPhone, I use their app. Same content, without going on the web. A large number of my favorite apps are the same way — Amazon, TUAW, dictionary.com, Living Social, etc. I’m getting the web content, without ever going on the web. While the last point talked about how sites like Facebook are killing the Web, on my computer, I’m still getting there by going to Facebook.com. On my iPhone, I don’t even do that.

Which brings us to the Mac App Store.  The iOS version of the App Store has been very successful, and thus has given people expectations for how an App Store should work. And the Mac App Store is playing into those expectations. When I logged in for the first time, there was Angry Birds prominently displayed, just the way it should be in an App Store. And there’s a free Twitter client. One of the complaints I read the first day was that there was no Facebook app.

Really, why should there be? The app would be designed to run on your desktop or laptop, which is capable of running a full-featured browser, letting you access Facebook in a way that lets you do more than you can in the iOS Facebook app. Arguably, there’s no need for a Mac Facebook app.

But because of the success of the iOS app store, there’s an ingrained expectation that there should be one. And if one were created, theoretically, it would be the optimum version of Facebook — a version of Facebook freed of the mobile-device limitations of previous apps and of the browser-compatibility limitations previously on desktops and laptops. And then not only would there be the option of leaving the web, there would be a reason to.

And this isn’t true just for Facebook. A year from now, will I end up editing my blog from the Mac WordPress app because it’s better than WordPress.com? And will I be getting my weather from the Weather Channel app? What web sites will I stop visiting because there are better ways of accessing their content?

There’s a bit of irony here — for the last few years, the trend has been that everything is moving toward the web, and that web applications will replace desktop applications; that I’ll be doing my word processing through the web instead of using a native application.

If the best analyses are to be believed, two years from now, I’ll be reading Facebook in an app while I’m doing spreadsheets on the web, streaming movies on to my laptop while controlling my computer through the TV. I’ll also be washing my clothes in the stove and cooking dinner in the bathtub.

Just so long as my Garmin GPS music player is compatible with my flying car.

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Greetings From The Future!


Dear younger David:

Greetings from The Future! Well, the future for you, the present for me. Although, actually, I’m writing this post one day and post-dating it to publish another, so kind of the future for me, too. I know that means nothing to you, but we’ll get back to that.

So our dad just picked up a paperback copy of the Arthur C. Clarke novel 2010: Odyssey Two.which, not so coincidentally, happens to be the year that I’m writing this from.

If I recall, you haven’t yet seen either of the movies, but you’ve made a rather impressive start for an elementary school student at reading 2001: A Space Odyssey. Be proud, it’s a tough book.

It’s also, it turns out, utterly unreliable. From where you’re sitting, in the early 80s, and being an elementary school student, and an overly optimistic one at that, you don’t yet have any concept that there’s is no way we’re going to have lunar bases or interplanetary missions by 2001.

Sadly, here in 2010, it’s no better. The Leonov spacecraft remains as far out of reach today as the Discovery was in 2001. No missions to Jupiter, I’m afraid. Or Mars. Or even the moon. We’re even about to stop flying the space shuttle, something that will become more imaginable to you in two or three years, I’m afraid. The future of NASA is rather wide-open right now. Which is not necessarily a bad thing — there are a few certainties, but that means there’s a lot of possibilities.

There were some things Clarke got right. There were even some interesting things he got wrong. That joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. mission in 2010? The fall of the Soviet Union is closer in time to you than it is to me. Practically just around the corner, and the great futurist couldn’t see it. Politics are even more unpredictable than science, it appears.

None of that is to say that there haven’t been huge leaps forward in technology in the years between us. It’s just not in the way you would hope. There’s a guy out there named Steve Jobs. I would tell you to read about him, but, to be honest, I don’t remember now how you would do that. You won’t have the internet for years. You don’t even have Wired magazine. Looking back, it’s such a different world that it’s hard to imagine. Anyway, point being, computers are going to do things you can’t even imagine. And, get this, the most amazing part of life in 2010 is the telephone. Yeah, I know, just hear me out. OK, imagine your telephone. Now, imagine there was no cord on it. Now imagine it was smaller. Now imagine it could play games and take pictures and make you as close as human beings can come to omniscient.

But if you’re like me, and, pretty much by definition, you are, all the little ways life is better are only consolations against the future that didn’t happen — the leaps and bounds in personal technology are nice, but you were hoping for leaps and bounds through the solar system.

There’s hope. Last week, this company called SpaceX put a capsule in orbit and brought it back down. No people on it, but it’s a vehicle that could carry people. On the one hand, it doesn’t compare to Apollo, decades ago. Or even Mercury, yet. But it’s a private company doing it. It’s a huge step closer to people like us making it into space, and its a huge step closer to people making money in space. And when there’s money to be made in space, there’s going to be money spent getting into space. And when that happens, space is going to open up like never before. So maybe it’s not what you were hoping for. But it is cool, trust me. And, hey, you can trust me — after all, I’m kind of an expert, thanks to … but that would be telling.

And, in the meantime, there will be more Star Wars movies. But, then, you’ll have to wait a long time, and they really won’t be worth it. So never mind. But, hey, I’m about to go see the new Tron movie in a few days. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

Take care. Have fun. Hug your grandmother for me.

David