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BLOG: Jobs humanized technology, made the magical common

Dan Frakes | Oct. 7, 2011
I used my first computer sometime during the late 1970s. It was an Apple II, and it amazed me. I was in elementary school, and it was at a friend's house on a farm in the midwest. I point out the time and the location because in retrospect, I find it fascinating that my first exposure to computers, at the dawn of the PC era, wasn't in a school or a business, and it wasn't in the sort of setting most people would associate with groundbreaking technology. It was in a farmhouse surrounded by corn and bean fields, a few miles from a town of 2000 people, and much farther from anything you'd rightly call a city.

I used my first computer sometime during the late 1970s. It was an Apple II, and it amazed me. I was in elementary school, and it was at a friend's house on a farm in the midwest. I point out the time and the location because in retrospect, I find it fascinating that my first exposure to computers, at the dawn of the PC era, wasn't in a school or a business, and it wasn't in the sort of setting most people would associate with groundbreaking technology. It was in a farmhouse surrounded by corn and bean fields, a few miles from a town of 2000 people, and much farther from anything you'd rightly call a city.

I'd like to think that anecdote would have brought a smile to Steve Jobs's face. If he had an overarching goal in his life, it was to take technology and make it accessible, affordable, and lovable. Not in the creepy "I'm infatuated with this inanimate object" kind of way, but in the "This amazes me every time I use it" way. And I loved that computer from the first time I watched it start up.

I'm tempted to be dramatic and say that I knew at that moment that I'd be working with computers for the rest of my life. But grade-school me, unlike Steve Jobs, wasn't enough of a visionary. In fact, had the idea occurred to me, it would have seemed preposterous at the time. A world where everyone used computers? A world where I could earn a living writing about people using computers? A world where futuristic gadgets were so pervasive that someone would pay me to play with them? This was beyond The Jetsons. It would have been a little boy's fantasy.

Yet here we are, and here I am. Not only are computers and their offspring ubiquitous--in the office, the school, the home, and even the pocket and the hand--but many people can't imagine life without them. And that's a big part of the legacy left by Steve Jobs. Not because he invented all (or, some might argue, any) of these things, but because he had the vision, the persistence, and the discipline to bring them to people other than the techies.

I don't think you can overstate what an accomplishment that was. And yet Jobs humanized, if you will, not just the computer industry, but one industry after another: personal computers, animation, media players, media distribution, mobile phones, PDAs, smartphones, retail, tablet computing, software distribution. And those are just the direct influences. Over the past 25 years, industry after industry has adopted--or, in many cases, attempted but failed to adopt--Apple's focus on both visual design and human-technology interaction. Apple's influence has become so pervasive that we take it for granted. It's even become hip to argue that that it's overstated.

 

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