It’s far more common and less noteworthy for the young to obsess. We see it often, a girlish (or boyish) obsession with pink, followed by a girlish (or boyish) obsession with Edward Cullen.
So I admit myself guilty of a youthful fixation, but of a different sort. My love of Apple may have predated the maturation of my logical faculties. Yet as it compares to those of my peers, I will defend it to the end.
At the beginning of elementary school, I was introduced to my first computer, the 1993 Mac Centris. Bulky and beige, it explains why my early drawings of computers were composed of no fewer than three overlapping rectangles.
For our generation, it is hard to imagine the invention of the personal computer. Innovations, and the creation of tools in particular, always seem obvious in retrospect. Yet one box with mouse and screen whose purpose was to run software written by many different companies simultaneously would have been a supremely counterintuitive definition of computer to a 1970s observer.
Alan Turing hypothesized in the 1930s that all natural processes were computable, and therefore amenable to computation. The doors this conjecture opens are infinite and hard to imagine: anything that can be described naturally can be described computationally, and any definable task therefore doable by computer.
When Turing was alive, the tasks doable by computer were few, and basic. Beyond generalities, he could have no idea what the future of computers would be. Yet in the 80 years since, one man and one company has assumed the mantle of Turing’s guess and has stood at the frontier, pulling struggling applications from the river of conjecture to the shore of reality as through sheer force of will.
Apple’s founder Steve Jobs has pushed time and again not only the possible, but the conceivable. The ideas he invented or popularized are too many to count. Until Apple, even Graphical User Interfaces, the idea that one interacts with a computer through mouse and icons not shell and prompt, hadn’t seen light outside of Xerox’s basement.
Yet none of these facts explain why my six-year-old self was so fixated on this brand. Their computers were just fun. The simple tasks of making folders or closing windows could entertain me longer than I care to admit.
As I grew, so did Apple. The clunky Centris was replaced by the candy-colored iMacs, and the blocky OS 9 the shiny 10.1. Microsoft became famous for selling its operating system to any box on the market. In the increasing fervor of external app development, companies like Google would do well to remember the Apple lesson: never outsource a product’s soul. Apple’s products, hardware and software, have a unifying aesthetic that can always be traced back to the man in charge.
In elementary school I put the family computer through its paces, as I installed and played with every piece of software I could get my hands on. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I would toy with the settings endlessly to see what would happen. Every mishap was a lesson. Deleting admin accounts taught me about resetting passwords, and forced reboots necessitated knowledge of the diagnostic boot keystrokes.
Flipping through the Dummies Guide to Macintosh around fourth grade, I found a note reminding the reader you couldn’t break a computer by playing with it, and I never let my parents forget it.
When the first Apple retail store opened in New York, I was one of the first there. The SoHo store was enormous, equipped with a genius bar and lecture seating. In fifth grade I would try to go every weekend. I would try out every new application Apple released.
As neither of my two moms instilled in me a strong love of sports, Apple became my team and creed. I would defend the company at length against any foolhardy criticism from the unworthy.
I began dressing as a computer for Halloween. My costume computer was a large box with rotating screen. Candy put in the front bag would rotate on a horizontal axis and empty into a larger one within. I walked around the SoHo store the first time, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
It wasn’t long into my obsession before I became aware of the man behind the monolith. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and Next, had a reputation for extreme secrecy, efficiency, and brilliance. To love the company was to love the man, for his aesthetic sensibilities pervaded both his products and his people.
I began shaving the Apple logo into the back of my head for OS launches. Those in line at the Apple store loved it.
It was then that a woman named Brooke moved into my building. She did PR for tech companies and mentioned that Steve Jobs, busy as he is, always reads email sent to his public address. I think I was around 10 or 12, and I sent a very enthusiastic and grammatically incorrect message including a picture of my shaved head.
Against all odds, he forwarded it to the head of Public Relations, Katie, and I got invited to the opening of the 5th Avenue Cube. I arrived with shaved head in tow, and entered to tumult, as a three-day-long line wrapped around the cube saw my hair and applauded. I descended the spiral staircase and was met by a gaggle of press and photographers. Across the room, Steve saw my head and burst out laughing. He beckoned, and shook my hand. I remember the details only vaguely, but I remember the feelings that produced my dorky grin perfectly.
Apple was my childhood. I know a lot of techies feel the same way. Steve Jobs will be missed. The tragic thing about his death is how little time he had with his family after he stepped down. Steve put everything into his work and earned the loyalty of every one of his fans. This is just one techie’s story, but there are many more like me.
His example has had immeasurable influence on every single person in tech today and beyond. The knowledge that there is important work that can only be done by you must be an incredible burden, and we all owe Steve and his loved ones our thanks.