Apple’s Steve Jobs died a year ago today and so naturally there will be memories, memorials and retrospectives. Apple has mounted a tribute on its website. There are blog posts and news stories galore, here, here and here.
The occasion reminded me of a column I wrote the day Jobs died. It never made it into the Mercury News, so I thought I would post it here today.
Steve Jobs: Feb. 24, 1955 to Oct. 5, 2011
The millions of words that will be written, tweeted, tech-crunched, mashed and e-mailed about the death of Steve Jobs won’t come close to speaking as loudly as the scene outside the Apple co-founder’s house the day he died.
A mother led her small child to the edge of Jobs’ front yard so the child could place a flower on the ground in memory of the man who helped change the way that child will grow up.
Silicon Valley was in mourning on Wednesday, which was quite a remarkable thing for a man who was not an entertainer, or politician, or athlete. He was not a man who moved others to overthrow oppressive regimes (with the possible exception of Microsoft back in the day). He did not preach a religion, no matter what those who annually attended Macworld might say. He did not broker peace treaties or stop famine or wipe out illiteracy.
In fact, he had a most unpleasant side that he would unleash on those he found unworthy.
And yet, we loved him.
It was evident from the small crowd that gathered outside Job’s house in the evening after word of his death. A security guard, who was not at liberty to say much, said the hearse had already left and yet neighbors and others stood in vigil. It was evident from the outpouring on Twitter and Facebook.
This wasn’t the sense of loss that accompanies the passing of a brilliant businessman, though Jobs surely was that. This was deeper. Millions, arguably more, around the world felt they knew Jobs personally. In that sense, Apple’s products were the ultimate in personal technology. For years, users have forged deep bonds with their iMacs, iPods, iPhones. To say many consumers loved the products was not much of a stretch. And where did the products come from?
And who was Apple?
Jobs famously berated engineers who did not live up to his standards. He motivated through fear.
“You know someone, to run a company, to make great products, has to do a lot of saying no to people,” Steve Wozniak, Job’s Apple co-founder and friend told me in June. “You have to be able to tell people, “This is not good enough. We’re looking for higher standards. We need better people.’ You’ve got to be willing to take some of those nasty stands.”
And yet he engendered long-lasting loyalty among those who knew him well, including Woz. The day he retired as CEO of Apple, a day that was something of a dress rehearsal for this day, some of those who were there near the beginning told me they did not want to talk about the man or his legacy. One said only, “I am very sad.” Jobs, a private man who ran a company cloaked in secrecy, would have hated having people talk about him and so they didn’t.
No question he had an endearing side as well. After a column I wrote about Job’s stepping down, Robert Wright wrote to me to tell me about the time he was a young Silicon Valley teacher helping students edit videos on a Macbook. Wright knocked over a cup of coffee, which spilled all over the machine. It was dead. He couldn’t afford the $2,700 to replace it. So he sent an e-mail to Steve Jobs.
“To my surprise, a couple of days later I received a phone call from Cupertino: ‘Send it in. We’ll replace it.”
He did and Apple did. The video project was saved.
“The fact is, I got a new computer in the mail, a computer I needed but couldn’t afford, and though this happened years ago, it still amazes the heck out of me.”
It’s what Jobs did and why his death comes with an outsized sense of loss.
He amazed the heck out of us.