Goodbye, Steve Jobs

On October 5, 2011, Steve Jobs passed away. Working around media, I often think about the thousands of pre-written obituaries and pre-produced retrospectives just waiting to be released – this is not one of them.

I have, in this publication, made several critical remarks about Steve Jobs and his Apple products but never have I sought to understate the impact his contributions have made. I am sure many are writing just as I am now about how there are, in fact, no words capable of exaggerating what Jobs has done to change us, how we live, and how our world works.

Just as you cannot walk two blocks in a major city without seeing a Starbucks, I wonder how many yards or even feet you have to go to find an Apple device in someone’s pocket, bag, or hand. I remember my first computer, the Apple IIe. It had a floppy disc drive and required you to type in “RUN” commands to execute programs. In the early ‘90’s, I went to college with one of the first Macintosh computers. It was a boxy beige box with a small screen that was capable of one color pixel – I stared for many hours at that greenish-blue hue.

Only a few tech companies can compare in scope – Facebook, Google, and Microsoft come to mind first. But unlike these contemporaries, Apple seems to have managed magically to keep its head above the policy fray that has crept up over time to first Microsoft, decades ago, and more recently Google and Facebook. All four have Washington, D.C. lobbyists but Apple’s presence inside-the-beltway has always been the least notable.

In fact, despite $32.48 billion in revenue, Apple Inc. only reported $1.6 million in lobbying expenditures in 2010, according to Lobbyists.info. In comparison, Microsoft Corporation reports $62.42 billion in revenue but $6.9 million in lobbying in 2010. Google spent nearly as much, reporting $5.1 million in lobbying in 2010. Facebook, new to the D.C. government affairs scene, only spent $351,000 in 2010 but many expect this number to be several times higher in the next round of reporting.

More importantly, Facebook and Google cannot seem to spend more than a few weeks out of the beltway publication news cycle that covers federal investigations and public policy battles. Apple on the other hand, rarely makes an appearance. Earlier this year, there was some hint of possible antitrust allegations when Apple changed its publishing rules for subscription services sold through the Apple iTunes store. But the “fervor,” if you can even call it that has since died down. According to news reports, Steve Jobs has even met with President Obama twice in 2011. Now, if that isn’t efficient lobbying, I don’t know what is.

There was something about that black turtleneck and the reassuring quiet confidence in his voice. I am sure that voice was just as convincing inside the White House as it was during those keynote speeches that anyone who ever fathomed themselves a “tech blogger” salivated to cover. But was that all that stood between Apple and hearings on Capitol Hill? Only time will tell.

Time will also tell whether we will come to remember Apple products as pre- and post-Jobs. Sort of like we remember Saab automobiles as pre- and post General Motors. Let’s hope not. For now, we can hang onto our iPods, iPhones, and iPads as a little part of history – as something that was once a great idea inside a great mind. As fast as technology changes and we churn through our devices, I can’t help but imagine watching a raindrop falling in slow motion, and then all of a sudden realizing how fast that moment passes as the drop hits the ground. But in this case, the ripple it causes is immense, if not infinite.

As a soul left the earth today, you might also wonder if there were a few extra zeros in between all the 0’s and 1’s that make our digital devices hum. A little binary moment of silence and a goodbye, like a silicon wink to the sky.