Tuned In

RIP Steve Jobs: He Let Us Inside the Media

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I spend most of any waking weekday inside Steve Jobs’ idea.

I wake up to an alarm clock set by my iPhone, which is docked to it. I get up and go for a run, listening to my iPod Nano on shuffle. Back home I get dressed, listening to NPR (iPhone app). Breakfast time and I read the paper, which is not on the doorstep yet but is on my iPad. Walk the kids to school, checking tweets on the way back. Spend the day at my desk, looking into a rectangle with a glowing Apple in back of it. At night, I’m in front of the TV–usually with the iPad on my lap.

(MORE: Steve Jobs, 1955-2011: Mourning Technology’s Great Reinventor)

That’s where I was when Jobs’ death came to me as he would have wanted it to: as a news alert on my iPad. I was watching Jeopardy with my kids, and found myself trying to explain why I would be sad about the death of the founder of a giant company, whom I didn’t know. So I told them about all the things they use and see every day that came from Jobs: the computers, the touchscreens, the Pixar movies, the computer mouse.

(VIDEO: Jobs’ Career In 2 Minutes)

But really what we got from Jobs and his company was an idea: that computers were something that belonged in your life, not in a science lab. That you would want to use them, play with them, touch them, carry them with you. That they were for not just numbers but music, movies, magazines, creation, communication. A lot of people made computers in the past decades, but it was Steve Jobs who understood that he was making media.

And by making devices an extension of ourselves, he helped change our understanding of media; it would no longer be just a system you got information from but a system you contributed information to. As he envisioned them–before the rest of us knew we wanted this–computers were not tools of calculation but of communication.

(PHOTOS: Diana Walker’s Photos of Steve Jobs)

And that’s part of the reason that Jobs’ aesthetic sense for Apple–so famously fastidious and demanding–was so key to what he did. The look and feel of Apple products was not just about making them beautiful, or making you feel cool, but about communicating an idea about the world. The borderless touchscreen of my iPhone says that this Star Trek Swiss Army Knife of information in my pocket should become, wholly, whatever I want it to be, with no form factor getting in the way. It should not run Angry Birds, it should become Angry Birds. The slab-of-glass iPad was his last and truest expression of what a computer should be in its ideal form: a window, a pane that you brush against and reach through.

That, as I was trying to explain to my kids, is the reason I felt so deeply sad about a guy who ran some company: because my experience of his products, like I suspect many of yours, was so personal. Yes, it’s partly that Macintoshes were the first computers that I ever used in a college computer lab, that I wrote my first newspaper stories on them, played Dark Castle on them, discovered the World Wide Web on them, and edited my kids’ baby videos on them. That’s personal; that’s nostalgia.

(COVER: Remembering Steve Jobs)

But it’s also that the things Apple made were expressions of the idea that technology should be an extension of ourselves, that it only matters to the extent that it can add to what we find important and beautiful in life. Which is why I’ll spend much of tomorrow, too, inside Steve Jobs’ idea: that a computer should be an elegant, simple frame, and we should fill it with the things that matter to us.

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