Come as you are.
Weeks later I still find myself thinking about Steve Jobs more than I ever did back at Engadget when I was writing — sometimes seemingly hourly — about him, his company, and his products.
Earlier this year I published perhaps my favorite piece I’ve ever written about Apple, called Living in Steve’s House. I wrote it months before Steve’s death, yet it wasn’t until after his passing that I realized I hadn’t really written it about his retirement. I think those who follow the technology world sensed his end was near, yet, I think like many, I’m still left with what Marco Arment aptly characterized as an “unexpectedly significant sadness.” For someone who I’ve only met a handful of times, I’ve had a pretty hard time comprehending and processing Steve’s passing.
And every day since I’ve asked myself, why has this been so hard to parse? Death is enormous and overwhelming and nearly incomprehensible, but it’s something we all share in the end — so why is it that all these people feel this way about someone they never actually knew? I mean, look beyond the somewhat superficial sense of familiarity you get through the keynotes, or the public persona, or the many books written about him. Go past the fact that many of us, as Americans, feel a common sense of ownership in his life story, one that’s maybe even become the quintessential 21st century re-casting of the American dream; a legend of triumph over adversity, of comebacks, and persistence, and genius, and sheer will.
Look through all that, and you see the thing Steve wanted us to see the thing that was there all along: the products, the craftsmanship. We share the connection through the things he created; that which bore his fingerprints seemed at once custom-fit but eminently accessible. Something every person could connect with, something that was intuitive and that understood us.
And it’s not unfair to say products sometimes transformed the way we used technology or the way we communicate. Yes, they’ve carried a reputation for “just working,” which has helped them to become among the first pieces of technology with which people were actually able to forge some kind of emotional bonds. It’s also not unfair to say that without Steve Jobs, we might have just had technology, not personal technology. But we don’t adopt these things into our lives because someone says it’s revolutionary, or says that it just works, or says that it’s personal — it goes even deeper than that.
For the folks who give a damn, Steve gave a little hope that there’s still someone out who cares only about a work of craftsmanship. While so many are busy figuring out how to package and re-package utter shit and sell it as the consumer pseudo-identities we’ve come to call “lifestyles,” well, here’s a guy figuring out how to create objects of near impossible complexity and unimaginable potential while making it look basically effortless. Objects that somehow manage to make you feel like someone understood you.
That was Steve. He made things that made us feel like he knew each and every one of us personally, and created them specifically for each of us to use.
Steve was the guy who sits in the meeting and says no. No, no, NO. He’s the guy — in some ways, maybe one of the last people I know of — that stands in the way of a tidal wave of mediocrity. Not because he has to, but because he can. He’s the guy determined to see to it that not only will devices become relentlessly more useful, not only will society be transformed by this technology, but you — yes, you — are invited to participate, and don’t even worry because you should simply come as you are.
Thank you, Steve. Not for the products — although they’re certainly worth a damn — but for these and the many other things I don’t think we could have learned without you.