“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
Steve Jobs (1955-2011) Stanford Commencement Speech
A friend sent me Jobs’ commencement speech around the time of my own, much-delayed commencement, which I celebrated by driving away from Northern California, knowing that I’d never go back for longer than a weekend. Before, being the type of person who lusted after typewriters and fountain pens, I turned my nose up at Jobs’ creations. What use did I have for over-priced laptops, music players, and mobile phones, beautifully designed though they were?
My brother, the family gadget junkie, felt otherwise. He generously shared his interest with me, first by gifting me an Ipod for my high school graduation and a few years later, (when it became apparent that I would stop dropping out of college), by convincing my father that it was a Macbook I needed to replace my old black IBM. I was reluctant at first, wondering if I’d turn into one of those goons who waited in long lines outside the Apple stores, but friends, family, and the growing number of people in the streets, at school, on the bus – all glued to their iphones/pods/macs, assured me it was the right decision.
“I don’t know what I was doing before I bought my Mac,” said a friend, “It was like being in a bad relationship. You just put up with it because you don’t know any better. Until you walk into an Apple store.”
“Dude,” said another, not bothering to look up from his enormous MacBook Pro, “Don’t use that other shit.”
I was skeptical, but also tired of my PC’s petulance and general incompetence. It often stalled and made terrifying whirring noises that grew louder as my papers got longer – I typed in fear, wondering if it would crash just as I’d finished the last footnote. If it did, I would no doubt drop out yet again. Not to mention it was like a sickly child, constantly inundated with paralyzing viruses, a concept that mystifies me to this day. Why did such things exist in cyberspace? And why were they so similar to the viruses that plagued human beings – there seemed to be no cure for these viruses, only the dreaded “reboot” that erased everything you had ever written/photographed/saved, ever. Most of what I’ve ever written lives online, but regardless, the Macbook had a better immune system.
Finally the day came. The IBM choked, sputtered, and after much rebooting, died in a very electronic sense: It simply did not turn on. I bid goodbye to its dull black corpse and welcomed a shiny silver Macbook onto my desk.
My knowledge of computers and their inner workings is extremely limited – you may roll your eyes freely – but I do know that there is hardware (the tangible parts of the computer) and software (the dizzying code and algorithms that are built into tiny silicon cities). It seemed that in my old laptop, the hardware and software could not agree. A key could be pressed ten million times, but the command was ignored. There was a failure to communicate between the hard and the soft – and who knew: perhaps the software was in revolt. Perhaps the algorithms were rotting and the codes were corrupt, threatening to burn down the walls of the motherboard.
But it was immediately apparent that within and without the Macbook, peace reigned. Hardware and software worked together like well-fed, robotic peons of a happy commune. A button pressed was a command issued and I smiled, knowing I (or my father), had paid a little over one thousand dollars so that I too, could live in the present. Designed in the rolling green hills of Cupertino by Apple Engineers who loved their king, (though for some this love grew from fear), the Macbook’s keys felt and sounded different from my old laptop. This took some getting used to, but its quiet beauty, soundless breaths and smooth simplicity calmed me. Like with an easygoing coworker or classmate, I fell into a comforting rhythm. Each morning I pressed a smooth round button and it turned on. What a simple joy this was! I did not have to first brush my teeth, wash my face, eat breakfast and read the paper and come back into my room only to find that it was still initializing.
Upon it, I did my work and did not work. I blogged, wrote research papers, spent hours lazing about the internet, or in my room, with Pandora playing from speakers that were much more powerful than those in my old computer. I video-chatted with cousins in Taiwan and filled its memory with photographs from Rome, Paris, Berlin and London; recipes I hoped to try someday and half-finished essays that would likely remain half-finished essays. Then, at the end of each day, I would turn it off, knowing that it would turn on just as quickly the next morning. I could have done all of this and more on any other laptop. But the fact is, I did not. I did it on my Macbook.
I should have said “Thank you” to Mr. Jobs each evening, as his creation helped both my productivity as a writer and my connectivity as a human being living in the 21st century. (Though I will argue productivity is relative to connectivity, or has rather, an inverse correlation). And more recently, with the iPhone (another gift from my brother, whom I thank as well), he has hammered the final nail into the coffin of my fear. The internet in my hands! Email, wherever I go! And music, and Facebook, and an amazing camera phone etc. etc. etc. I can do all that on any other smart phone, but the fact remains, I do not. I do it on the iPhone.
So morbid as this may sound, To Death, the ultimate change agent, and to Mr. Steve Jobs, inventor and himself a powerful change agent. He had herded me, like a docile lamb, into his elegant and user-friendly pasture. And there – or here, I should say, as I am typing this upon my angel Macbook, I will stay.