It is the way of things that everyone has a kind of proprietary feeling towards a famous person after that famous person dies—“He spoke to me more than anyone!”—so let me preface what follows by humbly stating that I am just one of millions whose life was significantly impacted by the late Steve Jobs.
But it is fascinating to consider this impact in biographical terms, to realize how personal Jobs made personal computing. By dint of having a good childhood friend whose dad was a professor of engineering at Rutgers University, I was one of those kids who had early access to an Apple II computer, which the professor’s family kept in the basement. We were given free rein to use and abuse this machine, and we flipped avidly through computer magazines to follow the doings of the two Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, as well as the people who were designing Apple II games. Our hero was a Persian-American programmer named Nasir Gebelli, who, working first for Sirius Software and then his own Gebelli Software company, came up with design-forward games that looked better and hummed along more elegantly than the noisy dreck that most other software companies were producing back then. We spent hours playing such games “By Nasir” (as he tagged them) as Phantoms Five, Space Eggs, and Gebelli’s then-audacious 1981 leap into 3D vector graphics, Horizon V. (I still conflate these games with the Who song “You Better You Bet” playing on the radio.)
Much in the same way that the 12-year-old Jobs had the gumption to call up Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard on the telephone, my friend, the engineering professor’s son, decided one day in seventh grade that he should simply call up Nasir Gebelli in California to discuss his ideas for new games. Gebelli, far from being affronted, offered my friend a job—an opportunity that, given child labor laws, my friend had to pass on. (My friend did end up working at Apple years later, though.)
In the winter of 1984, our junior year of high school, we saw Jobs’s famous “insanely great” introduction of the Macintosh computer. My friend’s uncle on the other side of his family was by this time running a software company that took an early shipment of Macintoshes. (You called them Macintoshes back then; even Jobs wasn’t yet hip to the power of abbreviated branding.) Through that company, I was able to receive a corporate discount on my first personal computer, a Macintosh 512k (a ton of memory back then) that I took with me to college as a freshman in 1985. That school year was a tipping point. At its beginning, I was the only person in my residence hall to have a Macintosh, which proved to be a good ice-breaker socially; most of my colleagues (I kid you not, youngsters) had arrived on campus toting typewriters. But by the school year’s end, about half the kids in the hall owned Macs, and the university had set up a computer lab equipped with Macs for public use.
I still have the 512k Mac in storage, its veal-colored casing (to use Tom Wolfe’s perjorative phrase for the plastic housing of early personal computers) yellowed by time. It was the first of approximately 21 Apple devices I have owned, up to and including the iPad 2 that I’ll use next week, when I’m abroad, to Skype in my part of the Thursday-night Giants radio show that I co-host on the nation’s smallest NPR affiliate. (It’s called “Tangled Up in Blue,” if you care to listen to loony, undisciplined ranting about football.)
I’m not an ardent-enough techie to call myself a fanboy, and maybe that’s a good thing—and the reason I actually met a girl and married her—but I was, and am, a fan of Steve Jobs.