This post has an important soundtrack! If you have Spotify click here.
I've been listening to Huey Lewis & the News non-stop since hearing of Steve Jobs' death. More on that in a second.
I got the news the way I suspect many people around here did - on an exploding Twitter feed that was equally praising Steve Jobs as it was the Occupy Wall Street protests. Immediately I got to wondering: how can I reconcile the excitement and hope I feel about the rising anti-corporate protests with the desire to celebrate the life's work of one of the most powerful corporate figures of all time? It feels mutually exclusive, and as many are pointing out in the most tediously obvious possible way, isn't it hypocrisy if those people #occupywallstreet with their iPhones and Macbooks in tow?!
I actually totally don't know! And my point isn't to answer that question at all, but instead to crack out about my childhood while I wait for the crack brownies to come out of the oven. This is the bottom line for me: my childhood is inextricably tied up in the history of this huge, powerful corporation Steve Jobs created, and I'm sure that's a good thing.
In 1983 my family moved to Cupertino, California just a few blocks from 20525 Mariani Ave., which would later expand out to the famous "1 Infinite Loop" world headquarters of Apple Computer (you might recognize it from your iPhone's "Maps" application). Having worked at Apple already for 2 years, my dad was employee #2567. I was 4! I lived in Cupertino until I went away to college 13 years later.
Millions of people have a relationship with the Apple Computer that emerged when Steve Jobs returned in the late 90s, and it's obviously been since then that the world has been most affected by Steve's products and ideas. But there's one simple innovation that Jobs and Apple made during that earlier era that had a huge effect on me as kid, and on my family as well; the idea that a corporation could have a casual, relaxed environment that creates a family and fosters creativity.
In a world where the Google-esque "playground" work environment is the norm for high-tech, it's hard to remember this wasn't always the case. Before Apple, the corporate office was often a place to be miserable and demoralized, not a place to be collaborative and creative.
My mom wrote to me today describing the feeling:
Really devastated about the death of Steve Jobs. Just so sad to lose such an innovative brilliant mind and to think about what was yet to come. He had such an impact on our family, though indirect, in the opportunity Dad had to work there and really enjoy his job at Apple. It was the best place he ever worked. Like he used to say, "it was like Christmas everyday".
Sometimes, if my dad had something to take care of on the weekend, he would take me to work with him. I got to hang out in one of the main gathering areas of the building, and I remember that it always seemed as though there had just been some kind of huge bash - half eaten cake, streamers, balloons, confetti. Casually dressed adults strolled from place to place looking grown-up in an impossibly cool way. Add to that the full-sized arcade games that didn't even need quarters and it was like heaven. And in my mind, when my dad went off to work in the morning, he was going to this giant birthday party to eat cake and open presents all day long.
Then, for my 6th birthday, I got my first bike! Ok, ALSO I got two tickets to go with my dad to the Apple convention "Bits & Bytes," where I wore a rad Jobs-ian red bow tie and stood on a box high enough to reach the keyboard of an Apple ][c so that I could demo "Print Shop" to conference attendees. I remember the point of this being to claim it was "so easy a child could do it" (which, as we know, is the opposite of the situation today), but I may have fabricated that whole thing in my mind after-the-fact. What is undeniable, though, is the amazing time I had with my dad, and how proud I was of him, and that it was the culture Jobs created that could make this happen.
There were lots more of these experiences, too - from actual birthday parties to a couple years later when what felt like everyone in the entire world descended on the Apple campus for the launch of the Newton.
The soundtrack of the time and place was Huey Lewis & the News (which you are hopefully rocking out to at this very moment): earnest party music with a lovable geeky nostalgia. This music snuck into my subconscious, where it still lives today as one of the most immediate ways to recall the more idyllic childhood moments.
As the company fell on it's tough post-Jobs/pre-Jobs era, my dad lost his job due to restructuring. Apple has still been the only computer I've ever used, and I spent much of my teenage years fighting the mac/pc flame wars that were a staple of the years where Apple was a complete mess. Dad defected for a bit (ahem) but has since returned, along with what seems like the whole rest of the world. Today he sent me this:
I'm not sure very many former Apple employees still have their badges. It was standard procedure, strictly enforced for the manager or HR rep to collect them when employees terminated. I know because I collected quite a few from my employees in my time, and they didn't want to give them up. I don't remember how I managed to dodge that requirement myself, but I do know that I desperately wanted to keep my badge. For one thing, the picture shows me at the happiest moment of my professional life--my first day at Apple.