I remember one night when I was 9, standing in the front hallway of my family home in Toronto’s West End, watching my mom and her best friend, Aunty Katherine, weeping inconsolably in one another’s arms.
Their husbands stood by watching them uncomfortably.
My sisters and I and our faux-cousins were wide-eyed with shock.
We’d seen good-byes between the two before, but this was over the top.
It was winter. There was snow outside.
When they finally parted, literally torn apart by the men, my mom gave Aunty Katherine something.
It was an LP: Double Fantasy.
On the cover was a photograph of a man and a woman kissing.
The crying began anew as Aunty Katherine, almost without strength, was lead from the house and my mom disappeared upstairs.
I remember standing alone in the living room, watching out the window as Aunty Katherine and her family drove away.
Years later I learned about the murder of John Lennon. But it still didn’t make sense to me.
Lennon was a rock star, a distant celebrity that neither my mom nor Aunty Katherine had ever met. Why the emotion?
I wondered about that night for many years, and it only finally made sense this week when I learned about the death of Steve Jobs.
My son was climbing into the bath with an armful of Lego when I checked Twitter.
I assumed a hoax. Then I checked Apple’s home page on my iPhone and my legs buckled under me.
As tears flooded my eyes and I sat down on the bathroom floor, my son looked at me in the same way I must have watched my mom and Aunty Katherine years ago.
“Why are you crying, Daddy?” he asked plainly.
“The man who makes iPhones and iPads died,” was the best I could manage.
He looked at me plainly, then asked, “what are we gonna do now?”
But I quickly pulled it together, stripped down, and hopped in the tub with him.
Only later, alone in the dark of the bedroom while my son slept, did I fully let Jobs’ death hit me and start writing this.
My dad bought one of the first Macs a few years after John Lennon was killed.
I don’t remember much about it, other than the fact that he thought it was much better than the endless parade of Ataris and Commodores he’d been hauling into the house up till that point.
When I bought my own Mac a full decade later, though, my Dad nearly killed me. Like the world in general, he had converted to Windows.
It didn’t take me long to understand why. In the mid-90s, Apple and its Mac computers were both a mess.
Steve Jobs was gone, having been unceremoniously booted out of the company in 1985, and Apple had since lost its way.
The company lacked vision and leadership.
Its mediocre products were quickly wearing the Mac cachet thin.
A decade after being ousted, Jobs was quoted in a Fortune magazine interview: “You know, I’ve got a plan that could rescue Apple. I can’t say any more than that it’s the perfect product and the perfect strategy for Apple. But nobody there will listen to me.”
Early the next year Jobs returned to Apple and the world – well, the world of Mac geeks, anyway – was breathless with anticipation.
Steve Jobs had to save Apple.
We were not disappointed. Jobs’ famous reality distortion field quickly became reality itself.
The average person would have died satisfied with just the accomplishment of the Mac computer under his belt.
But Jobs couldn’t stop.
He had a much bigger vision in his head.
He saw technology as a piece of a total social and cultural picture. He knew that computers didn’t exist in a vacuum.
He knew that we, as users of technology, wanted to draw technology into our lives, make it essential.
In 1996 Jobs said, “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”
The iMac. The iPod. The iPhone. The MacBook Air. The iPad.
That’s an awful lot of “pretty good” stuff. Every one of these products redefined the industry they were introduced into.
And while Jobs didn’t “make” every one of these products – they were a collaborative effort with other Apple geniuses like Jony Ive, Tim Cook, and Scott Forstall – it was Jobs’ vision and leadership that made them actually happen.
But he went beyond technology, and affected culture and media, too.
He purchased the digital effects company that would become Pixar from George Lucas and turned it into the animation studio of the future. Without Jobs, there would be no Cars, Wall-E, or Toy Story.
He made iTunes the de facto way to buy music, all but killing piracy and CDs in one fell swoop, and literally transforming the music industry.
Besides being a visionary technologist and a skilled leader, Jobs’ greatest strength was just knowing what we wanted. Apple never did product research.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” Jobs said in a 1998 interview. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
We didn’t know we wanted the iPhone until we had it.
And I still can’t make a solid argument about why anyone would need or even want an iPad. But everyone I know who has bought one has become instantly addicted to it.
Jobs was tapped into our cultural sub-conscious.
The past few days since Steve Jobs’ death have born witness to such hyperbole as we rarely witness.
Bill Gates said that Jobs had a “profound impact” on the world.
“The world has lost a visionary,” says US President Barack Obama.
But Steve Jobs was hyperbolic. He was a man that is truly rare. Driven. Visionary. Exemplary. Empathetic. Courageous. Unfailing. Inspiring.
He was larger than life, but still seemed familiar.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Jobs was believing and dedicated.
Before they were proven, his ideas were considered crazy.
Even after being introduced, many people wrote off the iPad as one of the dumbest ideas ever.
But Jobs believed. He believed he was right, and he remained dedicated to proving it.
Those are qualities any one of us would do well to adopt. Believe in yourself. Remain dedicated to your ideas.
Don’t let anybody cut you down or tell you different. You’re right. Follow your vision, expose your passion. Make what’s in your head real.
Make what you do matter.
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me,” he said in 1993.
It’s indisputable that Jobs had an immeasurable impact on the world that will be felt for decades.
More to the point, though, is the emotional connection he made with every one of us through the technology we use.
I’ve heard people, time and again, express their love for their Apple gadgets.
“I love my iPhone.”
“I love my Mac.”
“I love my iPad.”
Truth be told, I love Steve Jobs, in the way a teenager loves a rock star.
And Steve Jobs was a rock star. He was my generation’s John Lennon. He informed the way we view the world, the way we work and live.
Steve Jobs was truly great. The greatest, perhaps.
And he was taken from us too soon.
“What are we gonna do now?”
What indeed, son.
In 2005 Steve Jobs said this at his Stanford University commencement speech: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Maybe we should do what Steve would have wanted us to do.
Make every effort to become great ourselves.
Rest in peace, Steve.