Thursday, 6 October 2011

On Father Figures

Steve Jobs 2011 (black)

There was a point in time, several decades ago, when it became clear our Atari 2600 has been fully digested and the time has come for me to have that latest gizmo out there, the personal computer.
What followed next probably qualifies as some of the best quality time I ever had with my father, along with him teaching me how to ride a bike and him taking me to Tel Aviv’s Book Week (and buying me some of the latest sci-fi releases): My father and I paid many computer shops a visit, trying to determine where his money should go and which computer would serve me best.
We looked at many. We looked at the Texas Instruments, Tandy TRS-80, BBC, Sinclair, Commodore, Ataris – you name it. At several points we were close to buying any of the above. However, the computer shop visit I best remember was the Apple one, then located at Tel Aviv’s then prestigious Dizingof Center. The Apple II we saw there was by far the best and most capable computer out there: it even came with a floppy disk drive by default at a time where everything else used cassette tapes. It also had a very good version of the Basic programming language, allowing me to play with it more than, say, the Commodore 64 that relied way too heavily on Poke and Peek commands.
But the Apple II was also the dearest of the lot, and by a wide margin. So we didn’t buy it; eventually, we compromised on the Dragon 32. Not half as capable, cassette reliant, but equipped with very good Basic – the latest (second) version of Microsoft Basic, come to think of it.

On a day in which everyone is discussing Steve Jobs and his effect on their lives, my contribution is as follows. Jobs, and his fellow Apple cofounders, did have an effect on my life: their effect was achieved by them regularly releasing the most usable pieces of computer hardware out there, while always making sure their asking price was much more than I could afford. I always coveted their hardware, but I always had to settle for the imitations – most notably the ones from Microsoft – instead. Apple still had a measurable effect on me: by forcing Microsoft to lift its game Apple allowed me to enjoy better computers overall.
The phenomenon continues to this day. Apple effectively invented the tablet and is pulling the whole market behind. I got myself a cheap el-crapo tablet which would have never existed if it wasn’t for the iPad. Before that I had myself a crap Toshiba MP3 player which would have never existed if it wasn’t for the iPod. Today I have my eye open for the soon to arrive ultra notebooks, which are – in effect – the commoners’ version of the MacBook Air.
The only time I let Jobs truly enter my life was when I got so sick and tired of Gates’ mobile offerings that I was willing to open my wallet wide (very wide) to get myself an iPhone. That had allowed me to experience Jobs’ ability to revolutionize life as we know it firsthand: I bitch and moan about the limitations Jobs still imposes over his/my phone, but I cannot deny the significant effect that having a portable version of the Internet on me 24/7 has had.
Together with Bill Gates, Jobs is probably the only person whose identity is totally synonymous with the company he led. Both are/were relics of a dinosaur era.
Death is always sad. As much as I disliked the Jobs/Apple cult, it is even sadder to lose a person that managed to revolutionize the world of personal technology for the whole of humanity on multiple occasions during the last three or so decades. How many potential revolutions are the rest of us going to miss now that Steve Jobs has gone the way of the dinosaurs?

Image by tsevis, Creative Commons license

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