A Thank You Note to Steve Jobs

By David Shenk

Steve Jobs announced yesterday that he has stepped down as Apple CEO. Here's a letter I just emailed to him:

TO: sjobs@apple.com
FROM: ds@davidshenk.com
SUBJECT: Thank you

Dear Steve,

Thank you. One afternoon in 1981, my father brought home an Apple II Plus for his three sons to marvel at, play with, learn from, imagine on. Thank you for that. In 1984, I was a freshman in college and my not-rich-but-indulgent Dad didn't think twice about sending me a check to buy the first Mac so that I could write my school papers on it. I was annoyingly self-righteous and entitled, and I shouted that day at a bank manager who explained that Daddy's check would take a week or more to clear; this made no sense to me and was not ok because my Mac was waiting for me that day at the university computer store. (I was wrong to be so rude, but right about the check-clearing nonsense.) That first Mac was a thing of wonder, a word and graphic sandbox, a brain extender. I wrote on it furiously, many hours every day, and learned to correct and improve my ideas. I could backspace over my third-rate thoughts and turn them into second-rate thoughts. Thank you for that extraordinary tool.

After that came the upgrades and I cursed you for the first time for cleverly planning my machine's obsolescence. But did I hesitate to buy a Mac 512K? Or a Mac Plus after that? Or an SE/30 after that? Or a Classic after that? Of course not. You were gone from Apple then, I know, but these machines were all your children. Thank you for all of them.

When I was earning about eight or nine thousand bucks a year in my early 20s, I spent about three thousand for the Powerbook 140. I wrote my first book on a 180, my second and third on a 2400c -- loved that machine. You killed it when you came back to Apple and I cursed you again. But I was still damned glad to see you back.

In the late '90s, everyone was dumping Apple. I tried Windows for a few weeks and couldn't stand it. Ugh. I stayed, and wrote my fourth book on a Lombard G3 -- a bit inelegant in my view, and also it spontaneously caught fire in front of me in the summer of 2000. But the book was saved, you replaced the machine, and all was quickly forgiven. What's a small desk fire among old friends?

We don't know each other personally and that's probably for the best. You've been pretty tough on some people over the years -- obviously an extension of your extraordinarily high standards. In a sense, you've become *the* icon of high standards. I suspect I'm far from the only Steve Jobs fan who has wondered whether the brashness is necessary for the boldness. My guess is that you've wrestled with this yourself. I think that's one of the core challenges we all face as human beings: demand excellence of ourselves and one another, but try to forgive the many stumbles along the way.

Thank you, and thank you again. In my own unchurchy way, I'll be praying, along with millions of others, for your health and comfort in the coming months.

Your admiring customer,

David Shenk

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/a-thank-you-note-to-steve-jobs/244152/