Last month, on the eve of the launch of Apple’s iPhone 4s, coincidentally, I found myself in a bit of a technical mess. Which soon gave way to a personal hot mess. I was desperate enough for a tech fix that I ended up on the phone with an ex-, a man I will refer to here as my Mac Genius (MG). MG is not just any ex-, goodness, no. This one was the Ex-Beau of Long Ago: a talented photographer who took more pleasure in tinkering with the camera than with his subjects, including me. (I know, hard to imagine.) Eventually, MG was seduced by a force greater than moi, turning his back on photography (and, yeah, me), and allowing himself to be 100% engulfed by Apple—and a guy named Steve. Busted heart and years of drama aside, the residual lingering benefits of the relationship with MG have served me well. That night, MG talked me through––what turned out to be stupidly, yet luckily, nothing more than––a trivial iDisk user error. With the technical chat completed, we began the phase of wrapping up our polite, awkward conversation–the part where we act friendly, but never share exactly what’s new in our lives. Instead, we danced around in the nostalgic safety net (?!) of our shared past: a few common friends, a mutual fondness for Apple, and for a guy named Steve.
Seriously. No conversation between us could end without some mention of Steve Jobs, or Apple, or more specifically, regret about not having bought enough Apple stock. (Read here: my millionth rehashing of how some fool broker advised me back in the early ’90s to buy Restoration Hardware over Apple, MG’s repeated lamenting of the all-too-premature sale of a truckload of Apple shares.) On this particular night, the eve of October 4th, we found ourselves touching on Steve’s stepping down from his CEO role at Apple and wondering what that would mean for the future of the company and its zealots.
We were well aware that Apple has dedicated a good amount of resources to the development of the “Apple University,” an institution tasked with defining the unique essence of Steve and preserving the corporate culture he created. They can talk all they like about the case studies and training programs they developed to instill Steve’s DNA in its candidates, but to them, I still say, “Good luck with that.” Steve is a Man-God: a one-of-a-kind entrepreneur, CEO, and visionary who seemed to be channeling from another plane. Eerily, we also wondered how Apple would eventually handle what appeared to be Steve’s inevitable departure from the physical realm. “A world without Steve?” MG whispered into the phone. “Can you imagine?” I said. Neither one of us could. Instead, we noted the lateness of the hour (He: NYC/Me: LA), said our goodbyes, and ended our conversation on a bit of a low note.
I was not at all prepared for what I saw on my homepage the next afternoon in the middle of a local Starbuck’s. Yes, in the middle of a Starbuck’s, I opened my MacBook Air to a most elegant-looking picture of Steve, a very alive and healthy looking Steve Jobs, featured as though he were some hot new artist launching a new single on iTunes. Product promotion! That was my first thought until my eyes focused on the dates: 1955-2011. There he was—lean, stunning, healthy—and well, gone. I’m not a crier. So it was to my surprise that I was abruptly overtaken by a few loud, uncontrollable sobs, the kind that hide out in the smallest pit of your stomach waiting for odd moments like this. I sat there, crying, a few mascara-stained tear streaks on my cheeks, staring at Steve, my iPhone lighting up with a barrage of incoming texts from MG, the one ex- of mine who could share in my grief. I sat for a few minutes—with the Starbuck’s barista staring openly at me from behind the bar—looking as if I had had my heart broken. Didn’t I?
This was after all, a man who I was in a relationship with for many years. And no, I don’t mean MG. Steve Jobs seduced me long before MG did, when I was barely a college graduate. Actually, it’s more invasive than that. This man left no choice other than to become personally involved with him. His introduction of the Macintosh in the ’80s singlehandedly altered the business of graphic design, and as it turns out, the course of my life. In those days, an aspiring design professional had little choice other than to become an early adopter of Apple. Along with that came the tribulations of living with and through the many waves of Steve’s professional growing pains. In that regard, he truly was like a bad boyfriend, including the part where no expense was spared. He was both mad scientist and guru, and I was, unknowingly, both lab rat and apostle, testing his works and spreading his word—a gospel that was often met with great resistance and skepticism at that time.
As with any new man in his daughter’s life, my dad (A.K.A Accountant) didn’t share in my blind love for Steve, or, as he referred to him, “your buddy Steve.” My buddy Steve was the source of countless battles between me and my PC-loving dad and brothers—about the premium costs of Apple equipment and the merits of “personal” computing. My shouts of “user-friendly” and “intuitive” left them looking as blank and dull as their PC screens. Their shouts of “Compaq clones” and “cheap” left me appalled. Granted, this was the early phase of Apple’s history when Steve was ultra-egocentric, micromanaging and controlling all aspects of user experience to a fault. Remember his insistence on using only the most unique of cables, plugs, and hardware in creating and owning a proprietary product? (That’s a trait I share with my buddy Steve, by the way; I will still rationalize the big bucks for a well-made stiletto or cabernet, any time, any day.)
It didn’t matter what logic Dad and bros offered me. It was too late to convert me to anything PC. Steve was my man, and I was in bed with him and all his gadgets and proprietary cables—for life.
Luckily for us lab rats, Steve—after his infamous exile from Apple in 1985, and a brief stint at NeXT Computers—was reinstated as Apple CEO in 1997. He returned with a greater willingness to play with others, recognizing that world dominance could only happen with a friendlier platform and prices. Voilà! Out of the muck of the 1980s and 1990s came the Apple lotus flower: the iPod. Not only was it a revolutionary platform for monetizing and delivering media of all kinds (music, movies, etc.), it also ushered in a seemingly never-ending marketing ecosystem with all its derivative products: iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, and on and on. It’s almost incomprehensible that all this started with the vision of one man—actually, one God-Man. Steve was so brilliant, even Dad finally came around about him; he’s been an Apple convert now for many years and is now also kicking himself for not having bought Apple stock as heavily as I suggested. Dad now refers to “my buddy Steve,” without any irony, mind you, as “the Thomas Edison of our era.”
Don’t get me wrong. Even with a Man-God, not everything in the relationship was all fun and games. Oh no, sirree. That man broke my neck. Literally. He fed me tools, applications, gizmos of all kinds that allow me to churn out my passions and ideas at warp speed. And boy, did I ever. Like any lab rat, I ate it all up and was glued to my screen like a junkie—spinning out designs and concepts at an hourly rate that was dizzying. Ergonomics and proper posture be damned! Hello, degenerative disc disease! Hello, physical therapy! Every time I feel a crick in my neck, or a tingle in my hand from a dying nerve, I think of my man Steve. The Thomas Edison of my osteopathic-dependent world.
And let’s not forget: He stole my guy, the ex-, MG, too. Ha!
Steve had other lapses, too. I can recall being livid at him after 9/11, when Apple announced the company would be giving away laptops. To aid the families of the victims. Huh? “Like that’s going to help those families!” I screamed. The tragedy took place a few months before Apple opened its New York Soho store, converted from a former Post Office. At that dark time, I saw the store and the giveaway as a purely mercenary and insensitive move—a most inappropriate time to infiltrate the marketplace. I could have slapped Steve silly. Yet in hindsight, I simply recognize it for what it was: My misplaced anger at a man I loved, and a brilliant way for my prophet Steve to spread and show his love.
The New York Times reprinted the eulogy that Steve’s sister Mona Simpson gave about him. Readers, be forewarned, a few tears may ensue. Interesting enough, Mona talks about Steve’s passion for love. How he strove for perfection of love and beauty at all costs. And she’s right; it resonated in everything he did. You see Steve everyday, in every way you navigate life, not just on your desktop—whether you’re surfing the web on your iPad, listening to your iPod, or marveling in the simplicity of MobileMe. Let’s face it, you don’t just “like” Apple, on Facebook or in your real life. You love Apple.
Steve created one of the most unlikely loves of all: one in which a customer develops a lifetime romance with a brand. Once you’re in, you’re in. It’s personal. Given all the outpouring, from fans, media, and customers alike, I was clearly not the only one hit with a jolt to the heart, nor left with a personal scar or story.
It’s no doubt that this Man-God was taken too soon. I can only hope that my Man-God Steve, wherever his spirit may be, is now busy rummaging through the collection of Apple University protégées and scaring the bejesus out of one of them with his visions of what’s next. And in the meantime, we can also be grateful, and possibly envious, that Steve Jobs lived a life in a way that allowed him to love his work and work his love.
It’s not often that you can say the man is bigger than the myth. And in this case, also that the man is bigger than the brand.