When The Great Ones Go

I started using computers in 1983, when I was seven years old. My first computer was a Timex Sinclair zx80. It was super cheap, on clearance for just $18.00 at Radio Shack. It could connect to a spare black and white television my mother was going to throw out, which meant that it was in our price range (we were POOR). I begged my grandfather to buy this computer for me, because I had fallen head over heels in love with the Atari 2600 and wanted to write my own video games.

My next computer was a Commodore 64, gifted to me by my grandfather well after the Commodore 128 had come out. Again, it was a clearance computer at Sears, and again, it could fit the bill of giving me something to write games in BASIC while playing other games I pirated over a 2600 baud modem (I cannot tell you how perfect I got at the diving competition in Epyx's Summer Games). I first found the internet on that computer, via Quantum Link, which you probably better know as the company it would eventually become, America Online. It was also on this computer that I first used a graphical user interface, GEOS.

I used that computer all the way until I was sixteen years old, when my adopted father brought home an old IBM clone tower from a client job he'd just finished (the link goes to the longest and, in my own opinion, second-best story I've ever written, if you're curious). I became obsessed with programming and the web, and it was on this computer that I wrote my first website in December of 1994, shortly after Tim Berners-Lee (and his team) created the WorldWideWeb and the first recognized HTTP standard. It was also on this computer that I played the first ever First Person Shooter, Wolfenstein (and later, DOOM).

Fast-forward to 1996. By this time, I had moved echelons beyond where I started. I already quit college after working in Georgia State University's computer lab for a few months to build websites professionally. I also dabbled in game development and graphic design. This was where I first garnered my hatred for Apple computers. I couldn't stand the damn things. Everyone I knew in the field who used one was an egocentric artsy-fartsy prick. They had no right click. They came in colors like "Bondi Blue" and annoyed everyone with an actual programming background.

In 1998, I got my first MP3 player -- An RCA Rio. It was neat. I would later buy a Creative Nomad in 2000. It was bulky, but at the time, 6 gigs of music was a TON. I loved it very much. It was around this time that Apple released the Titanium-body G4 laptop. I was so enthralled with the idea of a Titanium computer that I finally released all my hatred and bought one.

All of that hatred came back within a week. I couldn't network it with all of my Windows machines. The games on it? SUCKED. You couldn't run a proper web server on the stupid thing. Coding? Sure, if you liked using notepad. I sold it after five days of ownership for a gain of about $300, since they were hard to come by and were selling at a premium.

It was 2006 -- nearly 23 years of programming experience, 16 years of internet experience and 10 years of professional experience -- when Apple finally released an Intel-processor-based Macbook. The only reason I bought one? Because you could install Windows on it, and it was the most powerful computer you could possibly buy at the time (that wasn't a CRAY). By this time, I was a fairly competent graphic designer (which isn't saying much, by the way -- average photographer + average layout artist + substandard illustrator = great graphic designer), not quite as much of a hardcore gamer, and my programming responsibilities had waned quite a bit since I'd decided to turn into a full-time writer with part-time consulting jobs.

When I got the thing, I decided to challenge myself -- I would use only OS X for a week, just to see if I could. I even bought the MacRetard.com domain name (which I've since let go of) to document my experiences on learning it, mostly to make jokes about why I hated it and would never leave windows.

Much to my surprise, after three days, I fell completely into the Apple Fanboy ranks. It finally clicked. I realized that after just three days, I hadn't once run a virus scan, cleaned my registry, performed a disk optimization or defrag... Things that had become a part of my daily and weekly routines with my Windows machines. I realized that I had been using a tool that required more maintenance than this new tool I just bought. And the correlation I drew in my head was if I was a contractor who had a hammer that I had to tape together every morning, glue the head on every evening, pick the splinters from the old wooden handle out of my palm every few hours... And someone introduced me to a brand new, fiberglass handled, sturdy, permanently-affexed-headed hammer? I'd never, ever go back to the old thing again.

My productivity soared. I finally bought an iPod. I moved to iPhone. Life got better.

And throughout this whole time, I'd been playing first person shooter games and using the web on systems that used a mouse and a graphical user interface and watching Pixar movies and generally enriching my life with all this wonderful stuff that, without Steve Jobs, never would have existed.

HTTP was coded on the neXt platform, as was DOOM -- a system Steve Jobs invented. Pixar was started by Steve Jobs. The graphical user interface, while invented by Xerox, was popularized and made useful by Steve Jobs. The mouse was made popular by the Mac, which was invented by Steve Jobs. The concept of a widely-available consumer-oriented "personal" computer was invented by Steve Jobs (and Woz). Touch-screen devices? Steve Jobs. Personal music players that not only held a ton of music but fit in my pocket? Steve Jobs.

The world is many shades of better thanks to Steve Jobs. And now he's gone.

I've never met him. I came to the Steve Jobs table extremely late, but once I'd dined from it, my life got better. If you have any sort of sense for gravitas, or a macro view of society and its advancement, or a passion for gadgetry, or an appreciation of higher-concept animation, or a love for technology, or even a rote understanding of the advancement in our world that can take place when one highly motivated creative individual stands up and starts working and never stops, you will miss him as much as I will.

Steve Jobs has joined my personal list of people who have, for the short time they were here on this planet, changed it to make it an amazing place to be (others on that list include John Lennon, Jeff Buckley, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mr. Rogers, to name just a few). And when they are gone, you have to wonder: what now? Because there is no filing of their shoes. It's impossible to be "The Next Steve Jobs," just like it's impossible to be The Next Michael Jordan or The Next Martin Luther King Jr. -- because the change those people make to the world is the change ONLY THEY could make. They permanently up the game. The switch is flipped. The only way to play is by the rules they just invented and then made you realize were better.

So there will be no Next Steve Jobs. But there will be The Next Great World Changer. And I can't help but wonder who they will be.

Me? I will try my best forever, and fall short. I feel like I've made some contributions to the world that make it interesting, with my stupid stories and the "invention" of Social Editing for books and the early technological contributions I made to the web. But nothing I do will ever stack up (or even be remotely comparable) to anything a true World Changer will do. But I will forever be inspired by these people to not put my pencil down; to not rest on my laurels and continue forward and push and drive and keep making and doing whatever stupid idea comes into my head.

So who? You, maybe?