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A Chain of Causality

I should be working. I’m working on a review, on the Xbox 360 — a system made by Microsoft — a company that probably would not exist if it weren’t for Windows — an operating system that definitely would not exist if not for the Macintosh. Once I’m done playing the game, I’ll write the review (as I’m writing this) on the most reliable computer I’ve ever owned, a Mac Mini.

I very likely would not be doing this for a living if it weren’t for the desktop-publishing experience I had before graduating college. First was high school, where I designed flyers for my first band on an original Mac. (In Zapf Chancery. I know. Shut up.) Then came college, during which I taught myself rudiments of more complex graphical design by laying out my next band’s first CD on a Mac at a Kinko’s. Desktop publishing skills — especially those on a Mac — looked great on a resume in 1996, which probably helped me get my first job out of college, at P.S.X., which later became The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. And if they didn’t help me get the job, they certainly helped me succeed at it, and keep it for over 10 years. For that entire time, I worked daily on a Mac. It was my livelihood.

But before that, I learned rudiments of programming — something that’s served me well in critical thinking as well as in basic web design — on an Apple IIe in grade school. For my seventh-grade computer project, I hand-coded an interactive version of Steven King’s The Eyes of the Dragon. For my eighth-grade project, the assignment was to write a program that generated a color picture on the screen. I ended up crafting a pretty impressive (for the time, and the technology) image of Gene Simmons’ face, in full makeup — then went a step further than required by animating it: he appeared on the screen, then turned his head and breathed fire. I still have that 5 1/4″ floppy somewhere.

Last night, I was checking e-mail and reading my RSS feeds on my iPad in between texting my wife on my iPhone. I had music going in the background, streaming from iTunes to an AirPort attached to my stereo, controlled by the iOS Remote app. A notification window popped up on my iPad from the AP News app: Steve Jobs had died. Of course we all knew this was coming, and I certainly felt a sadness for all the ideas that might now be unrealized, a certain concern that Apple might lose some of that creative spark that had made it such an interesting company. But I also thought, “Oh geez, ridiculous hyperbole incoming!” I winced in anticipation of all the maudlin blog posts and frothing overstatement of Jobs’ influence on the world.

Then I thought about the work I needed to do today, and the 360, and Microsoft, and Windows. I thought about that Apple IIe and the string of Macs and sitting in Kinko’s at 11:30 at night aligning pictures. I thought about the music I was hearing, the music I’d sold online, the fact that I was sitting comfortably on the couch with an amazingly powerful and usable computer sitting in my lap like a hardcover book. I thought about the fact that I never again have to take a road trip without bringing my entire music collection with me. And I realized that much of what I’d be reading about Steve Jobs might not be hyperbole after all.

No, he didn’t feed the poor or cure a disease or land on the moon. He wasn’t even the person directly responsible for creating the Apple, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, or the iPad. But he drove those creations. As a result of that drive, my life is better: I can communicate with loved ones more easily, I can work more efficiently, I can enjoy more pleasurable road trips. He didn’t “change the world” in the sense that, say, the inventor of the printing press did. But what he was in charge of has inarguably changed my world for the better, in many different ways. And he’s done the same for millions of others. And that’s definitely something to be proud of. That’s more than the vast majority of us could ever dream to do.

So here’s to you, Steve Jobs. Thanks for taking the lead on so many projects that have improved my life. Here’s hoping Apple will honor your legacy by continuing your vision. But if not, that won’t diminish the impact you had.