How Steve Jobs Influenced Me as a Writer

I knew this moment was coming. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon or so abruptly. The passing of Steve Jobs affected me more deeply than I thought it would and, last night, I could not write — only absorb and reflect. This morning, I can think more clearly about how Steve Jobs and Apple had strong, emotional influence on me and propelled me into a writing career. I’m ready to talk about it.

Back in 1996, Apple was in deep trouble. I was worried about the company I respected and admired.  Starting with an Apple II in 1978, I had never owned a computer that wasn’t built by Apple.  I suppose the bleakness of Apple’s prospects got me into a funk, and I realized I needed to reach out and write about my feelings.

Dreams“It’s worth it to give up who I am for who I can be.”

The best tribute I can give to Steve Jobs right now is to show you how his vision inspired me. Below is my first Internet editorial, and, looking back, it reminds me that dreams and a passion can be a powerful thing in one’s life. As a young physicist, I never thought I could become this passionate about a man, a product, a vision and a company. That changed. I never would have become the writer I am without the influence of Steve Jobs.

The following essay was published as “Dream to be Different” in Tidbits # 344, 9 Sep 1996.

Voltaire said that if there were no God, man would have to invent Him. In a lesser but just as strong and pervasive sense, if there were no Apple Computer, mankind would have to invent it, for we are dreamers, and dreamers look up to the sky, always searching, thinking of what could be.

What most analysts are doing when they analyze Apple is to look down into the murky swells of the business world. Sam Whitmore wrote in PC Week on July 22nd, 1996, a very calm and accurate accounting of Apple’s problems. An Apple fan couldn’t really complain about his thesis for it was even-tempered and to the business point. But the article, as all the articles that suppose to articulate Apple’s demise, overlooked something very important. Sam forgot that there are those who have never been afraid to be different or be outcasts. The dreamers, the writers, the artists, the scientists, all those people who look to the future and say “why not?” walk to the beat of a different drummer.

Now, with the further delay of MacOS 8, the most challenging task Apple has ever undertaken, it will be all too tempting, even for the Macintosh supporters, to start throwing rocks at Cinderella.

Do we ask more courage from Apple than we ask from ourselves?

Once upon a time, a man named Steve Jobs, filled with passion and fire depicted the PC users as human lemmings, walking off the cliff of mediocrity. No one liked being compared to a mindless creature, and indeed, Microsoft has made quite a good living by giving business people what they have dearly wanted most for the last ten years: respectability. The line that Windows 95 is “just as good as a Mac” is the anthem of those who, for years, never had the vision or courage to embrace something better. Microsoft’s strength is also its weakness.

There will always be those who are sparked by the glimmer of something just a little better, just a little cooler, just a little more inspiring. And there will always be Dilbert Managers who must exert their control by ignoring the advice of their technical people. Here’s an example from a computer weekly in 1991, article titled: “Reaction to 50 MHz 486 is lukewarm.” It goes on to quote a woman from Hughes Aircraft, “many of our users have more power than they need right now [with 386s]” A manager at Chevron said, “Right now we could justify the price only as a server.” To be sure, these people were using DOS, not a powerful GUI-based bit-mapped system that demanded considerable horsepower. (But the Macintosh IIfx at that time was delivering just that.) So where were these people looking? They were looking at their account balances.

Where are Macintosh users looking? Men like Douglas Adams and Arthur C. Clarke? The spirit of Apple Computer is that of excellence and adventure. It embraces the future and everything positive that the minds of men can conceive of. We’ve often paid a little more, but we paid the money out of our own pockets. Some of us make a living by day with Windows so we can spend our own money on something that captures our imagination in the evening.

Apple lost its way in recent years. Apple forgot about inspiration and wonder. It got caught in price wars, desperately seeking acceptance at any price. Now, Apple’s destiny is to be the best. Truly, there may only be 10 percent of the population that cares about the best. But if Apple gives up that 10 percent, there are those dreamers and entrepreneurs standing quietly in the wings waiting to take up the cause. We cannot predict what they will do, but the spirit of the dreamers who want something more will always be with us.

More than anything, we want Apple to know that. Truly, the best in us is also in Apple — Courage Under Fire.”

A few years later, I was chatting with a friend at Apple. We were talking about the fact that I could no longer write about my employer — I had achieved my dream by going to work for Apple. Lori mentioned that the essay I had written for Tidbits had brought tears to her eyes when she read it.

From that day forward, I knew that, someday, I would be writing again about the man and the company. Truly, the best in us is also in Apple.

Thank you Mr. Jobs.