Saturday, October 8, 2011

In Which a Total Stranger Changes Everything

I started a different blog post the other day, ironically about the iPhone 4S and my thoughts on that, but then Wednesday happened and kind of pushed that out of the way for awhile. So instead I'm going to talk about a complete stranger and how much that stranger has positively affected my life and, in my opinion, the world.

I've always been a PC. I learned the alphabet on a Commodore 64 keyboard, even though the letters are all out of order. You'd think this confused me, but for some reason it didn't. I was so, so young. I played Pitfall. I played some school bus game where I had to go pick up the other kids. I waved the floppy floppy disks back and forth because they made a funny sound. I remember the plastic case that held all of dad's floppy disks, and I'd go in there and find my school bus game and insert it into the wide slot, turning the little lever that locked it into place. I got a little older and played the winter olympics game on my Commodore. Then I remember being in elementary school and using my first Apple.

I despised the thing. We'd go into computer class and play KidPix and Math Blasters. But I hated everything about those computers. The weird, difficult menu choices and just the overall look of it irked me. I was a PC fangirl in training. Around that time was when I'd go over to my dad's house and play the Windows preloaded games. There was this skiing game that nobody remembers but me. You basically went down the hill on a 2D slalom course, going over jumps and avoiding trees. But there was a point where, if you were a pro at it like I was, this evil gray snowman appeared out of nowhere and ate you. It made no sense. I thought for sure I could beat him, but it was apparently impossible. Either way, I loved the PC and Windows. I knew my way around the Control Panel like a 40 year old tech support specialist.

And then there was the iMac. It wasn't their first attempt at an all-in-one, but it sure was the prettiest. And boy did I want one. I remember when we got them in school. They were the ones with the dark bluish cases, but I didn't care. It was a thing of beauty. Was that a HANDLE on the top? Where do I put the CD? Wait, just in that slot? The slot sucks the CD in? There's no tray? THIS IS PHENOMENAL.

I wanted it more than I'd wanted anything up to that point. I didn't want that Barbie as much, those Hot Wheels cars, that magnetic fishing game. I was 11 years old and I was obsessed with new gadgets, and it all started with that iMac. Sure you can blame it on the pretty colors (I would've given all my toys away for the "tangerine" one) and I can't lie that that's partly true, but even so, Apple was on the ball. They knew what people wanted. Hell, they were making all-in-ones since basically the very beginning. They were always about innovation, as any tech company is, but they succeeded in somehow being that all-important step ahead of the competition (which Steve at one point partially credited to the drug LSD). That iMac was sleek and futuristic, where other computers were still wearing their drab, square coats of sickly-looking beige. And that was probably when I started to soften towards Apple. I still felt that irrational fangirl hatred from my elementary school days, but the tech nerd in me was starting to gain more favor. I learned I could love BOTH! It was possible! And the Windows police weren't going to jump out and tie me to a spit and cook me over a fire while everyone shouted "TRAITOR!"

Nevertheless, as is the case now, Apple products are notoriously expensive. And people don't like to spend so much money on something that basically does the same thing as a much cheaper PC. So I never got an orange iMac. Or any other Mac, until I bought one myself a couple years ago. The first Apple product I DID own, though, was of course an iPod.

I remember when the iPod appeared on the scene. Probably the first time I'd ever actually encountered Steve Jobs, one of two men who were basically behind everything I've already talked about. First keynote I watched. He seemed so excited about it, as though driving to make things better, faster, more useful--like that was his true passion. People were in awe, I was in awe, and I knew it was time. I needed my first Apple product. Unfortunately that was...2001? 2002? I was fourteen or so. Still not at the age to get a job and absolutely nowhere close to talking my parents into spending $500 on a music playing device with a cool click wheel on the front. I'm pretty sure I was still using a PC my dad built for me at that point because we couldn't buy a computer, so this new gadget was very far from my reach. It reminds me a bit of my more recent quest for an iPhone. It was out of my reach for so incredibly long, and as a tech nerd, that's never fun.

When I finally DID obtain an iPod, it was a bright blue Nano. I was waitressing at the time and finally had some money saved. I remember leaving work one afternoon and getting that gadget-buying thrill, because I had my money and I was going to Best Buy. I opened it in the car before I even drove away. Even the packaging impressed me. Unfortunately the first two I had were defective within a week of getting them. I was pitching to my family that it was because my old computer was crap and couldn't handle the awesomeness that was trying to sync with it, but that didn't sell. I of course exchanged it every time for another, and the third ended up being lime green because they were out of the blue at this point, probably close to the holidays. CD players were all but done at that point. Now I could carry hundreds, THOUSANDS of songs and pictures around on this shiny little device. I was in love.

My next iPod didn't come until 2008 or so when I was at the University of Pittsburgh. It was also around Christmas. Amazon had a deal for an iPod Classic, maybe a 5th gen, with 80 gb. And it was a strict impulse buy, by definition. I called home every single day because I was having it shipped there instead of my apartment, since with my luck it would get stolen. My mother hated me for a solid week or two.

Many happy days were spent walking down the hill to the bus stop with the iconic white earbuds in, jamming to Alice in Chains or something and waiting for the bus that usually either didn't see me when it drove past, or nearly plowed me over as it lurched up onto the curb. And everyone had iPods at that point. They were affordable now. There were different sizes and types for everyone, from joggers to music collectors. And, of course, floating about in some peoples' hands was the gadget I've desired the most in my life thus far: the iPhone.

I remember when I first saw one in real life. It felt like a rare bird. I was working at TGI Friday's in Pittsburgh International Airport at the time, and I saw just about everything there. Porn stars, football players, movie stars, musicians. Creepy old men who offer you those wrappered strawberry candies from their pocket and grin toothlessly. Groups of women who were going to Vegas and got plastered on Bloody Marys at 7 AM, before they even got on the airplane. It was logically the best place to see an iPhone. I actually remember the table she was sitting at. She was an older African American woman, clearly important in some way or other in a nice business suit. After she was done talking, she set the phone down right in the middle of the table. I surged up to her table with my hands clasped reverently and said "Excuse that an iPhone?" She just sort of nodded and smiled in response, so all I said was "That's so cool..." as I walked away, wishing I would've said "Can I see it?" But I couldn't bring myself to switch to AT&T. As much as I wanted this phone, I wanted it on my terms. And I love Verizon, though I hate going to the stores, because everyone there is miserable and unhelpful. But the phone service is top-notch. And so I waited.

Now it's summer of 2009. I need a new desktop. I used a laptop mostly through college, and I'm headed into my senior year and think it's time to take advantage of that education discount. I saved most of my tax return and any of the money I could. I paid, well, I paid a lot of money. All in about four different methods. I used cash, a credit card, a debit card, and dad assisted a bit. And I bought a beautiful 24-inch iMac even though I hadn't used a Mac since elementary school.

Now I consider myself pretty tech savvy and able to pick things up pretty quickly, so this new machine wasn't incredibly daunting. Obviously I figured out that the close, minimize, and maximize buttons were on the other side of the windows, and it took me a couple weeks to stop trying to minimize and whatnot on the right side. I couldn't figure out why, when I hit the close button, the icon still glowed underneath on my dock. That meant it was still open, right? WTF? And then of course I noticed the program's menus at the very top of the screen and figured out I had to actually close the close it. Those first couple weeks were pure tech nerd bliss. I fiddled with all the doo-hicky's and kept uncovering new things that I'd never known before, at which point I'd call my dad and practically shout "DID YOU KNOW YOU COULD DO THIS? THIS IS SO AMAZING I LOVE THIS COMPUTER." I remember I was determined to figure a lot of things out on my own, which I did, except how to take a damn screen capture. There's obviously no print screen button on a Mac keyboard. But I couldn't for the life of me figure it out, finally resigning myself to googling it and realizing I never, ever, would have figured out the key combination myself. And two years later I've never had to do anything remotely close to "defragmentation" on it. And had I known back in elementary school that the OS I despised would tickle my bits so much now, I certainly wouldn't have hated it so much.

For graduation, dad bought me an iPad. The thing was amazing. I wrote on it, I DREW on it, I watched videos and edited pictures. I remember seeing all of things it was starting to be used for. Viewing x-rays in hospitals? Interactive educational tools? Absolutely phenomenal. I've wanted to see some of apps in person, the ones with an interactive model of the innards of the human body, or the interactive, to-scale model of the solar system. These things amaze me. A nurse can take the x-rays from the computer and instead of using that lightbox on the wall to show a patient, they can practically hand them the iPad. Zoom in on the troublesome spots in the x-ray so that they can see, where the doctor is sitting there next to them explaining instead of standing up in front of this film on the wall, which can be a  little intimidating and less personal in my opinion. The strides that this little tablet are making are just astounding.

And this spring, as anyone who checks this blog every once in awhile surely knows, I obtained the Verizon iPhone 4. After a failed attempt at buying it at midnight when preorders began, it was finally mine. And it was perhaps fitting that I learned of its creator's death first via this device.

I can honestly say that I've never been so upset about someone I've never met passing away than I am about him. Any of these celebrities and people who died too soon. It struck me, but not like this. None of them really shaped who I am. Steve Jobs did, if I'm being really honest with myself. There are different ways people can influence you. There's your family--they might be interested in something that you develop an interest for (aka technology, thanks dad). There's friends--maybe influencing the music you like or any number of other interests. Teachers inform you about the world, thus helping you develop your own opinions as your knowledge grows. But there's really something about what Steve Jobs has done for the world, and how different things might be without him. After all, the world of new technology is fiercely competitive. Companies watch each other closely on the next new thing, trying to come out on top. Steve Jobs set the precedent for these companies every time. He revolutionized MP3 players, and tons of look-alikes followed. He started a tablet computing craze. The things you can do with the iPhone were unheard of, and who knows what Android would be like without Apple nudging it along. Or if Android would even be around.  I'm not saying that Apple caused ALL of this, but the give and take of companies trying to come out on top has really made the way we get and utilize information a true marvel. For me, Steve Jobs was the best of them all--always ahead, passionate to the very end, my generation's Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell.

So thank you, Steve Jobs, for positively shaping so many aspects of our lives. As an acquaintance said of him: "He created all these layers to protect himself from the fan boys and other peoples’ expectations and the distractions that have destroyed so many other companies. But once you’re gone, you belong to the world.”

You will be missed dearly.


1 comment:

  1. NobodysDaughter420October 11, 2011 at 4:12 AM

    A fitting tribute for an insanely interesting man (and I ADORE the pic of you with your beloved behemoth of an iMac :-)

    I can only imagine your thoughts on the new Siri app? ;-)