My Childhood Hero: How Steve Jobs Inspired Us To Think Different

There have been exactly two moments in my life when the untimely death of public figure has deeply moved me.

The first was Jim Henson in 1990.  Then, I was young enough that I couldn’t quite believe or understand how this man could die. He was the embodiment of so many characters and shows that I knew and loved. When I found out, I walked into the backyard and sat alone. It was the first time I truly realized that we do not live forever.

The second moment was today, upon hearing of the passing of Steve Jobs. And, in many ways, this affected me more, along with the rest of the world.

There is something uniquely American about Steve Jobs, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Ken Burns eventually features him in a documentary on PBS. Steve was adopted. When he graduated high school, he went to college for a while but soon dropped out. He spent some time trying to find himself and his interests, even traveling to India at one point.

Eventually, he fell in with a group of people interested in computers, including his old high school buddy Steve Wozniak. Wozniak had been working on designing a personal computer for fun. The two clicked and together they founded Apple in 1976. The company grew rapidly and was wildly successful, making computers accessible to consumers for the first time. What’s difficult to imagine now is that, before Apple, the average person rarely used a computer, let alone owned one. Jobs saw the future and took us there.

For many, that achievement would have been enough. But, Steve didn’t stop there. In 1984, Apple launched Macintosh, a different kind of computer and operating system that had an intuitive, graphical interface and a mouse. Previous to Macintosh, most computer operating systems were simply text based, like the ubiquitous Microsoft DOS. It would be another 10 years before the rest of the world would catch up.

In 1985, Steve was forced out of Apple and began several new companies including NeXT and Pixar. Pixar was a pioneer in computer animated films, during a time when Disney was still drawing by hand. Eventually, it would become the most successful creator of computer animated films with a string of blockbuster hits.

NeXT, on the other hand, sputtered. Though, in 1996, Apple bought NeXT, and Steve returned to the company he originally founded. At the time, Apple was in shambles. Microsoft was king, and Michael Dell famously suggested that the company should be shutdown and all the money returned to the shareholders.

But, when most wrote off the failing company, Steve saw things differently. Within the next few years he would completely reinvent Apple, bringing out the iMac, MacOS X, iPod, iPhone, and iPad transforming the company into the success it is today.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear that Steve’s deep passion for his work, ability to look forward, and drive to never accept the status quo all made him, along with the companies he built, great. It’s also what captivated my interest at a young age.

I’ve always been a user of Apple products. Though I had an Apple IIe in the 80s, I got my first Macintosh in the early 90s. I can still remember being captivated by its color graphics, games like Myst, the flying toasters screensaver, and even basic control panel settings. As computers got more powerful, I learned digital photography, edited video, communicated on the Web, and even developed software. The Mac made this possible.

Steve Jobs once characterized computers as “bicycles for the mind.” This analogy couldn’t be more true. Just as the bicycle made travel faster and easier, computers enabled us to do many things better. Moreover, it could be argued that they made us more creative by giving everyone the chance to become a filmmaker, music composer, and so on.

But, besides providing us with innovative tools, Steve Jobs also set an example for us. He was passionate about what he did and inspired everyone who worked with him. He saw the world differently and stuck to his vision. Most of all, he walked his own path in life, and even when he stumbled, he crawled his way back up and kept going toward his goals.

It is for this reason that in the summer of 1999, I mailed him a letter just to tell him how much of an inspiration he was to me. As I finished writing, I remember struggling with how to sign it. “Sincerely” seemed too formal, while “your friend” was a bit presumptuous. I finally settled on a phrase that I had heard in the TV commercial for Apple’s Think Different campaign, one which I found particularly moving: Here’s to the crazy ones.


    1. What about recording alert sounds? Crazy to think there was a time when we were totally taken by the fact that we could record our voices and have them play back when an error happened :-)

  1. Of course, if we had actually been able to buy that Apple stock in 1996 for $7 a share, we wouldn’t be here to discuss this. However, since we were young, stupid, and more importantly, broke, we didn’t and we are. From a wannabe Pirate of Silicon Valley to the Captain of them all: Lift high the sails of differentness, steer straight the wheel of ingenuity, and forever roam the seas of legend. Here’s hoping you left some cool ideas hidden in a desk drawer, we’ll miss you.

  2. You made me a convert, Andrew. I remember us opening my lamp-shaped iMac box. Good times.

      1. It was a glorious day! I bought it, what?, maybe Feb or March of our senior year of college. And we just replaced it. That’s 8 and 1/2 years. And it might of kept going if we had gotten that battery replaced. I was actually kind of sad to see it go.

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