I grew up in Sunnyvale, California, in the heart of “Silicon Valley,” and my entire life has been shaped by the ever-advancing technologies being invented in my childhood backyard. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why the death of Steve Jobs yesterday has hit me in ways that I wouldn’t expect.
It was a source of pride for many of us that the founders of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, were locals who grew up in the same surroundings that we did (they both went to my junior high and high school). Parents of elementary school friends worked at Apple in the 1970s and I first got my hands on an early Apple computer in 1978 or 1979 when I took my first computer programming class in elementary school. Probably using the BASIC programming language, we learned how to translate code into graphics that ended up looking like a boxy needlepoint display of letters on the computer screen. But it was magic.
The first computer that I bought was an Apple and my first smartphone was an iPhone. Although I’ve eschewed online music, I can’t ignore the fact that iTunes changed everything for the music and radio industry. Before its launch I worked at a start-up that tried to figure out how to use online playlists for music discovery; but it wasn’t until iTunes that the masses truly understood digital music’s potential.
Oddly enough I heard about Steve Job’s death over the radio. I’d been glued to the TV and radio all day yesterday, following the manhunt for the disgruntled worker who shot 10 people in Cupertino. My family still lives in the house on the Cupertino/Sunnyvale border where I grew up and the gun-toting mass murderer was on the loose very nearby. As I listened to KCSB for the latest word on his whereabouts, I was shocked when the radio announcer casually stated the news that Steve Jobs had died. I wasn’t expecting it and it seemed even more surreal since Cupertino was the focus of so much news attention that day already. It’s only natural that both events would lead me to reflect back on a childhood in the suburbs.
By the time that I was a teenager, I thought that Sunnyvale was boring. I was drawn to the East Coast for college, in large part because I felt that there was more history there. But after college I became fiercely protective about Sunnyvale (and Santa Clara Valley)’s hidden history. All of my life, remnants of the past (orchards, farm houses, feed stores, lumber yards, etc.) and signs of the area’s history were being torn down and replaced by modern structures and office parks.
Places like Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Atari were lauded as tangible examples of the Silicon Valley brain trust. Yet, I also thought it was important to remember the ghosts of Santa Clara Valley, from the one lurking in the Toys ‘R Us of my youth, to Sarah Winchester (of Winchester Mystery House fame), to a long-gone train store in my neighborhood. For a graduate school project I wrote a paper, built my first web page, and created a shoe box full of memorabilia all around the idea of “imagining my suburbia and searching for ghosts.” As I pulled out that shoe box today, not only did I find my college application essay and a printout about the demographics of Cupertino, but I also found a scrap of paper that said “Jobs & Wozniak” and another that read “work hard = success.”
Everyone has hometown heroes and Jobs was certainly the most famous of those heroes to emerge from the community where I was raised. But I don’t think it was until the last decade that the true impact of Steve Jobs was felt. iPods, iTunes, iPhones, and the iPad helped to elevate Apple to a whole new level as they continued to innovate products that touched even more aspects of the daily lives of people everywhere.
Paul has already pointed out some connections between Apple and radio and I’d have to agree that iTunes and the iPod have presented challenges to the radio industry. But at the same time, iTunes and the iPhone have also facilitated both the discovery of terrestrial radio stations and have allowed for new ways to listen in. Some have likened the iPhone to a modern day transistor radio, since it can be held in one’s hand and can stream radio stations.
As I continue to process the news of Jobs’ death, I also realize that his “local” status has always been a big deal for me. In Silicon Valley, many people are transplants, having migrated here in order to chase their dreams. As a local gal, it’s somehow reassuring and comforting that someone who shared similar experiences as a kid was able to have such a huge impact on the world. I’m just sorry that he didn’t have the time to realize even more of his dreams.
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