The story of Jobs resonates even after his passing

The Apple II was an ugly computer. Squat and gray, it looked like the lost offspring of an air-conditioning unit and a small microwave that had mounted a blunt-nosed typewriter: no pearl-white backing, no softly curved chassis, no mouse.

But for Cinda Heeren, the Apple II was a revelation. From the moment it appeared in her high school classroom in 1980, it was apparent to her even then that it wasn’t just another class tool: the Apple II was a word processor, a textbook and more. It was, in her words: “elegant.”

Heeren, now a computer science professor at the University, said it was this elegance that is Steve Jobs’ enduring signature, and the Apple II enabled her as a fledgling programmer.

“Programming for me was a puzzle, and this was a machine that would let me pose my own puzzles and gave me the tools to solve them,” Heeren said. “I could pose my own puzzles, and I had the tools to solve them, and to me that was really powerful.”

Jobs’ power to craft not only highly functional devices, but culturally resonant ones, shows a deep understanding of the way people relate to technology, said computer science professor Dr. Lawrence Angrave.

“Steve Jobs’ vision of how people actually use technology, as opposed to the technology itself, has shaped our everyday world,” he said.

It is the distinction between, for example, an iPod, and the way people’s musical habits adapted to the iPod, that encompasses Jobs’ lasting influence, Angrave explains.

The iPod in particular, he said, was the next step in truly personal computing, and the current deluge of smart phones and free flowing information can be traced back to Jobs.

“What Steve Jobs did was realize that technology had changed the landscape and that personal computing was the place to be. (Apple) pushed its employees to make incredible devices that would work for all,” Angrave said. “Steve Jobs had an incredible tenacity to push people to make the technology excellent, to make the devices fantastic.”

Jobs resided in the company of trailblazers and innovators, said Steven Doran, Ph.D. candidate in media studies. It wasn’t that his devices were wholly original creations — they weren’t — but Jobs was able to pluck existing ideas from the public consciousness and translate them into usable technology.

Essentially, Jobs articulated the technological desires of the people, said Doran, and did so with such an efficient, minimalist aesthetic that he became the creative force for generations of computer users. Those users became strongly attached to the Apple brand due to the perceived connection between Jobs and the rigorous demand for perfection.

“You get the feeling that once Apple gets around to releasing something, it’s been vetted,” he said. “That it’s gone through this process where it’s not only comparably bug-free, but also provides a user experience that will culturally be enjoyable, will make sense and provide a service that people want.”

Jobs’ connection to his work isn’t a modern development, Heeren said. Even in 1980, she knew who the man responsible for the Apple II was.

“The mythology was already important,” she said.

And like any good legend, Jobs only grew more prominent and all-encompassing over time.

“What we’re mourning was this narrative and mythology of Steve Jobs,” Doran said. “This perfect kind of rags to riches story that aligns with American ideology.”

Doran believed Jobs put his own personality into his company, as evidenced by the late 90s ad-campaign, which used iconic inventors like Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller and Thomas Edison to urge consumers to “Think Different.”

“(Apple) used people like Einstein as their icon, but I think really that was Steve Jobs. It was the story he was trying to tell about himself,” he said. “And there’s that sense with Steve Jobs where we really enjoyed the story and it was done too early.”