I awoke today to the news that Steve Jobs had died. 56 years old. Damn. My dad died at the age of 52 back in 1985 – I was 13 and thought 52* was ‘oldish’… It’s really no age to go. No age.
There are a lot of Apple fan posts going up today, and yes, this in a sense is one of them, but I really need to thank Steve Jobs and Apple for making me who I am now. This is less crazy than it sounds on the surface. I’ll explain.
I hated computers. I don’t use that word lightly. I avoided the one Apple in high school (the school newspaper staff computer) and when I did mess with an Apple, I was 15 years old and attending a two week art and design taster course at a university in Indiana. We scanned photos, doodled with chunky pixel brushes and ‘airbrush’ techniques, printed the results on a dot-matrix printer and made collages. This particular time also marked my introduction to a few of the most important musical groups in my life, but that’s for another post. Suffice it to say, the computer wasn’t what changed my life in those two weeks.
I had experience with a Commodore 64 years earlier in gifted classes – even programmed it to do silly repeating things in that nurturing classroom of beanbag chairs, lava lamps, and advanced problem solving – but I only did the required tasks. I was an artist and a ‘do-er’ – not a computer or technology fan. I liked climbing trees, smearing paint, and talking. Computers didn’t engage me. I did not care for them and this continued for many years. I thought differently to most of the kids in these classes.
In art school, which I went to to avoid ‘real subjects’ like math and science, I fell into the inevitable for 1990 – Computer Aided Design. Oh, sweet Jesus, did I hate this. Drafting, but without pencils, paper, blueprint machines! The blasphemy! I once again did the bare minimum and often copied my assignments from a classmate’s disk. I had never been a cheater, but this was crap. CAD was cold, hard, unfeeling drawing. I was there to explore art, not let a bunch of circuits draw fine lines by my disconnected direction.
1994 was different. I was two years out of AIP – degree in Industrial Design in hand – and shopping with Aaron at our local Sears. Think Different banners hung around a kiosk of computers. They were the most attractive beige boxes I’d seen, but it was Jim Henson and the lot hanging over me telling me that this could be for me that made me look twice. The internet was still referenced in chunky Internet Yellow Pages, and I had a feeling that email could be handy. We looked at the crazy price tags ($500 for a Color StyleWriter printer!) and offered up our Sears card. We had our Apple Performa 630CD Money Magazine Edition computer set up that night. We signed up to eWorld. AOL. Bought the Internet Yellow Pages (for a couple of years).
Computers were scary, but my Apple? It was endorsed by those hanging banners of heros and visionaries. It didn’t want me to learn CAD. It asked me to come inside and poke around, explore, enjoy. And all of the sudden, I did.
I grabbed this new computing power and spent hours learning how this device really did fit into MY life effortlessly. I offered typesetting of resumés, I made business cards. When we moved to Wisconsin, we upgraded and I remember finding a Mac User Group. It was a room full of Think Differenters just like me from all different professions. Scientists, designers, retired people. We were all Mac Users and the Mac made a positive difference in our lives. I was working in a grocery store chain office when I decided that the Mac would no longer be a hobby, but become my profession. I went to this office job everyday with knots in my stomach and a building loathing for the way we were treated as stupid cattle in a backwards business. I had the future on my desk at home, so I needed to find that future in a job I liked.
The classified ad asked for someone who could use Photoshop, Quark Xpress, and Pagemaker. I had a copy of Photoshop (3, I think) from a Mac User Group software auction, but the other programs? I’d have to learn on the fly. I blagged my way into an interview and got the job. I was eager, a little stupid, and more ballsy than you can imagine. The need to grow beyond my grocery office job was powerful and the idea of working with Macs for a living too enticing. I became the professional I needed to be by working 60 hour weeks, reading a lot, and pushing myself hard. It wasn’t long before I was a pre-press expert. I was the only person in the department for a long time and if I failed at anything, it meant potentially thousands of dollars wasted in press downtime. I was driven, though, and built my little department up to a 24 hour position with several employees. We were (and they probably still are) an outstanding team. A team of Mac geeks. A team of Thinkers of Different things… We were not CAD monkeys or Windows users, we would not fix your computer (even though we probably could – there were a few Windows servers running a machine or two that we knew well enough). We were the art department in a mechanical, windowless building. Without us, you didn’t get printed. It was intoxicating, frustrating at times, and began my journey into professional geekdom, rather than the Mac User Group home nerd I had been on my own.
It was during that time I learned to write HTML. I wrote a newsletter for a ferret rescue (Aaron and I ran a private rescue), I designed calendars and cards for a local big cat sanctuary. There was no end to what I could create! Blogging was a natural extension, as I had already been blogging by hand in HTML since 1997. Polywogg was a Mac only blogging platform and within the same twelve hour period of signing up, I connected with the writing of Neil Dixon. No photos, just words, and we were immediately attracted to each other. It was like connecting with a long-lost friend. We were so similar and so far from one another (4000 miles) but Polywogg and Macs brought us into the same room.
Suffice it to say that this relationship grew. We didn’t work at it, it just blossomed. I invited Neil to the Mac Design Conference in Chicago. I got work to pay for my trip. Five months later I was divorcing, moving to England, and beginning my new career with Neil in web development. Macs have played a central role in our lives personally and professionally. Without them, our coming together would have been much more difficult, if it were to happen at all.
Aaron and I use our Macs every week to iChat. Through it all, we (and he and Neil) are still friends. Aaron and I have retained a close friendship and love through the magic of our Macs. We would not be in this place without them.
So, Steve – Thank you. A million times, thank you. You took a computer hater and taught her that it wasn’t me, it was the machines I was using. I needed the Mac and didn’t know it, but you did. Visionary and life-changer. I am more than I would have been without you. You changed my life for the better and I’m ever so glad you did.
* I had originally remembered his age at death incorrectly; he was 52 years, 8 months, and 3 days old. I’m starting a family tree so I can avoid relying on my flawed little brain.