Too Soon

Steve Jobs didn’t invent Twitter. In a week of relentless tributes, somehow that gives me some relief. Not that I buy the anti-Steve story, that we are imprisoned as artists in the closed architecture of the Apple walled garden. How soul-crushing it is to enjoy things for their beingness. Bah.

I keep waiting for the wave to roll on through. Inevitably, the sting will fade, as we turn our attention to what’s next to do. No more looking to Steve for the answers, or even the diligence involved in factoring the future. There may be some surprises still in the pipeline, but don’t count on it. Don’t worry; no one else will come up with any good ideas for quite some time, leaving Apple plenty of time to amortize the loss.

Fine. Can’t be funny about this in any way. What if Steve’s real talent was in drafting off the incompetence of his competitors? A sort of mega-galactic Peter Principle where Apple could afford to wait long enough for processor speed and the decline of the entertainment industries to accelerate enough to open an economic hole in the line big enough to run through. Right. Too soon to lighten up?

Lighten up we must do, and soon. Losing Steve Jobs is bad enough without giving up on the rest of humanity to boot. Certainly there was room enough for only one Jobs at a time, only one astronaut taking the first steps on the moon of the carriers and the record cartel. Arid, lifeless, with barely enough gravity to keep those lightweights from floating off into irrelevance. Of course that’s unfair; some of the early record company executives actually loved the music as much or more than the money.

Of course we supported iTunes and the AppStore. We knew Napster was a kid’s science project and not sustainable, even as we stole back our record collections just because we could. We knew that all-you-can-eat comes at a price, and were willing to pay it once Steve pinned the “Big” Four down. And we knew that once the game was begun, that our actions would begin to have value. Shares, retweets, Spotify.

Times like these bring music once again front and center in our lives. This time, the first in a long time, there’s an imperfect but tangible world to touch again. Unfaithful Servant, all remastered and restored, jumps out in realtime as I sit in a traffic jam heading downtown. A miracle of science and magic, a chain of technologies, fits and starts, serendipity meets 101 meets 280 meets 3G and ten seconds ago I wanted to hear it. And one small part of the thrill is that some part of my subscription dollars will flow through to the artists (well, Robbie) who made it.

Getting across that great divide is what we support Apple for, whether we rationalize it as all about design or pay for it with social gestures or complain about poor battery life. Of course it’s got poor battery life. Of course it’s outrageous to pay another 4 or 8 hundred bucks to replace the battery every year. Of course it’s because we’re constantly using the damn thing, the stupid Bluetooth magic that gets Spotify onto the car radio, the stupid phone call that interrupts the song or the push notification that dims the track for a second. Drat, drat, fumble, break the law, endanger the citizens around me as I complain that the traffic is moving just as I want to find that Dr. John track: Been in the right place, but it must’ve been the wrong time.

And then on Wednesday iOS 5 and iCloud ships. And with it some peace of mind as our pictures and history sync up with the cloud. Will no one else pay attention to these sacred moments of time like Steve Jobs did? Of course they will. His passing on some level is about the other connotation of the word — passing his torch on to the next. Rewind a little and remember what those launches we cherish were about: the joy of honoring those we love, their idiosyncrasies, our goofy expressions, smiling for the camera, for our shared history. Been on the right trip, must’ve used the wrong car.

It gets easier now, the finesse out of the way. With the money flowing, geniuses will figure out more ways of making things right. With the ideas flowing, we’ll hear the voices of complaint and outrage, the messages of love and justice, the rise of the human spirit. You could tell Steve Jobs believed that to be true, that there’s more from where he came from. Maybe even in spite of him. But more.

It’s too soon to wrestle this bear to the ground. But somewhere, perhaps in some basement, there’s a new Dylan singing too much of nothing makes a man feel ill at ease. And somewhere else, two kids in a garage just getting started. If I’m wrong, so what.