The Death of Steve Jobs

Let’s see if I can bring together a few strands here.

Penn Jillette is a huge asshole. I hope he wouldn’t disagree with me. I’m only a few chapters into his new book God, No! and this seems to be a recurring theme. Penn Jillette is a huge asshole, but as assholes go he’s a great one to have around. I respect the hell out of the guy, as much as I may disagree with some of his libertarian stances. It’s like Johnny Cash’s Christianity. I’m probably never going to agree with it, but take it away and they would not be the huge personality I enjoy so much.

In his book, Penn describes his experience when fellow Vegas entertainer Roy Horn (of Siegfried and Roy) was critically injured by one of the tigers in his act. Amidst all the prayers was Penn Jillette, staunch atheist. You can’t ask a guy like Penn to stop being a guy like Penn.

So what’s this got to do with anything, aside from that it was a passage I read yesterday, and now I’m writing something about news from today? Well, a few things I suppose.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

It doesn’t feel like six years since Steve Jobs said that in a commencement speech to students at Stanford, but it is, and now he’s dead. Pancreatic cancer is a bitch.

According to his book, Penn responded to Roy’s accident by buying some leather pants. The connection is clearer in the book, but basically he learned something about himself, about how he wanted to behave, and about how he wanted to treat other people. At least that’s what I took away from that.

The Internet is going to be filled with words and videos and whatever media my stodgey old brain can’t quite grasp, eulogising and condemning Steve Jobs. For his part in the creation of Apple and the evolution of the modern personal computing movement. For his part in Pixar, one of the greatest movie production companies ever. And for the way in which Apple and Disney, like many rich Western corporations, exploited workers in developing countries in the interest of greater profits. Also, if the many stories are to be believed, the guy was a bit of an asshole.

What I’m writing here is no more valid or interesting than any of that. It’s simply what I have to say. I was on a bus when I read the news, firing up Reeder on my iPad, and there it was from Daring Fireball, The Loop and 512 Pixels. I love these sites. It’s easy enough to call them Apple blogs. They certainly do report on developments in Apple products. But to me, calling them that is really limiting. To me, Apple blogs are dreck like 9to5Mac, Cult of Mac, or AppleInsider. Sites whose entire existence is about driving up ad impressions by talking about Apple 24/7, even when there is absolutely nothing to say. When Stephen Hackett at 520 Pixels has nothing to say about Apple, he’ll post about the shameful Internet sex trade, because it’s something he thinks is worth knowing about. And he won’t load it up with SEO keywords, because he’s not a douche. Gruber talks about baseball and Kubrick, and Jim Dalrymple and Peter Cohen post about music I may never listen to, but fuck it if it doesn’t give The Loop its style. I refer the reader back to what I said about Johnny Cash.

You may ask again, in slightly more polite phrasing, what the fuck does any of this have to do with anything? Penn loves to live large. Jim loves his music and shitting on RIM from a great height. Gruber thinks (correctly) that 2001 is the greatest movie ever. And fuck what boring tech pundits spout about walled gardens, device lock-in, and decidedly first-world notions of “freedom”, Steve Jobs wanted computing to be so damned simple that everyone could take part.

Here, watch this video where Steve Jobs explains why he wanted to call the Macintosh the Bicycle. Kudos to every hero who got in the way of that idea.

Heroes are a tough thing to have, because on some degree everyone is full of shit. Richard Dawkins is a great man and I look up to him still, but the handling of “Elevatorgate” was just embarrassing. There’s no describing the impact David Lynch’s work has had on how I view the world, but mention his stance on Transcendental Meditation and 9/11 to me and you’re going to see one grumpy bastard. Bill Hicks and the Kennedy assassination. Heroes all, and so fucking human. And now Steve Jobs, of the Macintosh, of NeXT, of Pixar, of the iPhone and the iPad, and the Mac G4 Cube, of overworked and underpaid Chinese workers, of generally being a hippy, of cheating Woz out of some cash, of all the good and the bad, is dead. And what does that have to do with me?

I have some friends I’ve been speaking to for longer than I care to think about now. That’s the odd thing about socialising via these little boxes of wires we all have now. The box is just there, and the people are just there, and before you know it you’ve been talking to the same people for a few years and there’s now rational difference between friends you meet in person and those you only talk to online.

To be perfectly honest, I never expected I’d meet any of these people in person. They’re scattered across all corners of the (oblate spheroid) Earth, and I am the least motivated person I know. I barely get out of the house, not feeling comfortable in such bizarre spaces as pubs, clubs, or other “-ubs” filled with people I’ve never met dancing to music I’ve never heard. After a brief affair with alcohol, I don’t drink any of that now. I’m actively the least interesting person you’re ever likely to meet.

Then some things happened. Well, two things happened. Two very distinctly Important Things. Two things that even some of my more special friends who liked to convince me that nothing really mattered could possibly sway me about. First, a very awesome friend of mine died. We weren’t especially close, but he was the best friend of a very good friend, and as I said, he was awesome. I am a fan of truth and cliche makes me cringe, so I very rarely describe people this way, but few people have been as genuinely and consistently nice to me as he was. Life did a hell of a thing when it took him away.

The second thing that gave me a swift kick in the arse was finding out about a year and a bit later that due to an odd defect, my poor kidneys were slowly being shredded to the point of uselessness. One day I’ll probably need a transplant, but at best that will just be a reset button and the process will start over again. I spent a week telling my family about the situation, and generally feeling like it was the end of the world. Like it was a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from.

And then in a couple of weeks I felt better. Not that I was better, that’s not going to happen. But my mind was wrapped around this new reality now. I’m sick, yes, but I’m still here for now, and I’m probably not going anywhere any time soon. But eventually I would be, so maybe I should get a handle on what I’d like to do in the meantime.

Were I any other person, this would probably be the point where I wrote my novel, travelled the world, met interesting people and settled down somewhere. I’m not that person, so I’ve mainly sat around feeling distain for the world. But now I’m doing that, having at least carried out two of those things. I went to America, and I finally met some of these awesome people in person. It cost me money and anxiety, and any illusion that travel isn’t one of the most ridiculous things a person can do, but even I’m not so unmotivated as to think it wouldn’t be worth it.

It was three weeks, and probably the best three weeks I’ve spent in decades.

What does this have to do with Steve Jobs? Fuck all, this is about me. How could it be about anything but me? The death of Steve Jobs leaves me to again question when I’m going to do the things I want to do before my time is up. I can’t imagine the sort of sadness he’d have felt, knowing he wasn’t going to see all his kids grow up and live their own lives. But in the time that he was able, it’s hard to imagine the man would have felt disappointed in his efforts.

He knew who he was. He knew what he wanted. He went after it. He left a dent in the universe. We should all be so fucking driven.

And as a godless atheist who is still sad he never got to meet one of his friends, who is going to miss a guy who sold great toys, and who wants even the multitude of assholes who have wronged him to love long and healthy lives, if you get sick, please see your doctor. Don’t visit a psychic. Don’t call some asshole on the radio. See your fucking doctor.