Neutron Star

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When I was fifteen years old, I was introduced to the Macintosh for the first time. It was 1988, and before that moment I was almost completely ignorant about computers. But this strange, peppy little box with its monochrome 9-inch display ended up turning my life upside down.

Before that moment, I thought of myself as someone who would grow up to be a writer. Over the proceeding years, my ambitions changed: from writer, to publisher, to developer. Every step intwining me deeper into the Macintosh.

Fast forward to this evening. I’m sitting in a room at the library, talking to an older woman about OS X Lion. I help run our local Mac User Group, so I suppose it was appropriate that it was there that I glanced at my Twitter feed to see the news of Steve’s death. I stood and addressed the room, some thirty in all, letting them know the news. An awkward moment passed, and conversation resumed. I took my seat, and the woman continued talking about some technical issue, as if nothing had changed. A few moments later she stopped and asked, “would you like a moment?” I had stopped paying attention to her. I was wrapped up in my own thoughts. I was, in fact, struggling to maintain my composure.

It wasn’t until I returned home that it really caught up with me. Erin had already heard the news. She held me while I cried, me feeling as if I had lost a close relative.

Like perhaps all of you, I never knew Steve Jobs. I did see him in person once (at the keynote for Macworld New York in 1999, where the original clamshell iBook was launched), but his influence in my life clearly outstrips that personal connection.

It already seems trite to talk about how he’s responsible for the stuff that I use every day. If that were all Steve were responsible for, then his passing would be far more prosaic. He didn’t put things in my life: he quite literally changed my life. I keep coming back to the image of a neutron star: a small stellar object that itself is so small, but exerts massive gravitational power. Like that star, Steve orbited my life, exerting an incredible power by placing these inventions in my hand.

Apple products empowered me to write. They empowered me to become a publisher. They are empowering me to live an independent life as a developer, where I can make a real living, and maybe some day even more than a living, in the comfort and sanctuary of my own living room. And there would be no Apple today without Steve Jobs.

He isn’t just a shadowy figure lobbing technical artifacts into our lives. He has been a dramatic example of human aspects that we don’t normally comprehend as success-inducing. Impeccable taste. Relentless drive for perfection. Obsessive attention to detail. The ability to pull the best out of the people who surround him. I can’t overstate the impact he’s had on all of us, and of all the sentiments I see on Twitter tonight, my favourite is the one where we’re encouraged to get up tomorrow morning and make something great. Insanely great.

Tonight, my heart is broken, for fear that we’ll never see his like again. But I’ll hold out the hope that instead, Steve will have projected enough of himself onto the rest of us, that together we’ll make a million Steves. That we’ll take the ethos that is Apple, and continue working to stamp out the bland, the not-fully-considered, the good-enough. The double-talk. The not-quite-ready, the boring.

I’ll miss you Steve.