A funny thing has been happening over the past day, which is that friends and family have been writing to console me about the death of someone I didn’t know. I wouldn’t say Steve Jobs was my “hero”—I’m not sure he would’ve liked the concept of heroes, anyway—but there are few people whose life’s work have mattered to me more.
It’s partly because his work has enabled almost everything I do. My first piano teacher was a Mac—a DuoDock if I remember correctly—running a program called the Miracle Piano Teaching System, which was hooked up to a MIDI keyboard. I became entranced with music and Macs in tandem. The early Internet beguiled me with its downloadable shareware and exquisite animated GIFs. I made my own custom folder icons in Photoshop and constructed narrative adventures in HyperCard. Even those beige plastic cases were somehow elegant enough to spark my early interest in design, and I started drawing my own sketches of laptops, speakers, and mice.
In sixth grade I started saving up for my dream computer, which, if you can believe it, looked like this. That was when Apple was at its nadir (I sat through an Amelio keynote!), and I proudly wore my Dad’s old Apple T-shirts to school to express my devotion to the cause. My family and I feel about Apple the way some families feel about their hometown baseball team, dissecting each product announcement as if it were a championship game.
I didn’t actually succeed in saving up enough to buy my own Mac until my first year of college, when I spent it all on the very nicest PowerBook G4. The iTunes store may be the more important invention, but it was iTunes library sharing that most changed my musical life. Through my classmates’s libraries, most of which were shared over the school network, I discovered all sorts of music that was new to me. And thanks to some “gentleman’s software” and a college freshman’s questionable sense of ethics, I was able to download it all onto my first iPod, my constant accompaniment on walks across campus and trips on Metro-North.
All the music I’ve written has been on a Mac. Even as a child I was frustrated by how slow it was to write music by hand; using a MIDI keyboard and Sibelius let me notate the ideas down as they occurred to me.
One of the amazing things about the tributes and retrospectives being published about Steve Jobs is that they are unanimous in their thanks and praise for the tools Steve helped create, as if he were a kind uncle or generous philanthropist. I think he saw himself that way, too, which I think is why I feel sort of personally affronted when someone criticizes an Apple product, or even the company, to me. It seems disrespectful in a way, like insulting the food at a friend’s dinner party. This stuff is Steve’s present to us, and he nearly always knew exactly what we wanted.
Sent from my iPad
Addendum: Chris Thompson, who I am heading off to rehearse with just this moment, has a lovely blog post with much cuter pictures.