Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the death of Steve Jobs

I'm typing on my MacBook, but that's not important. I recently acquired an iPhone, but that's not important either. What matters is that when my mom couldn't talk anymore, when she had lost the use of her facial muscles, there was something called an iPod Touch that she could type on and show people, so she could keep communicating, and when she couldn't type on that tiny screen anymore, there was something called an iPad that she could type on and it would actually read what she had typed, loud enough for my dad to hear it.

Before she got sick, Mom was always afraid of computers, afraid of any electronic technology, and Apple products were just barely easy enough to use for her to tolerate them in her life. Once she learned how to use our old Mac Plus, she refused to acknowledge that there could be any other form of computer that would work for her sole computing need: word processing. She hung onto that old box, without hard drive or color screen, until about 1998, typing her briefs and memos and various legal documents. There is a peculiar kind of irony in the fact that in the last months of her life she relied entirely on what was then (and mostly remains now) a strange and expensive toy for the technologically savvy, a portable video game console cum laptop that didn't do the one thing she always wanted computers to do. By then, she couldn't type more than one finger at a time anyway, so the lack of a decent word processor wasn't a huge issue anymore.

The iPad wasn't designed for ALS patients. The text-to-speech app she used was not designed by Steve Jobs, or by anyone at Apple. But the fact remains that this product, a luxury good that was not made for her purposes, was the best and cheapest item available for allowing her to keep talking to us. When she stopped talking near the end, it wasn't because she couldn't use the iPad anymore, but because she couldn't formulate the words and phrases even in her mind.

I didn't know Steve Jobs, and I didn't follow his every move as obsessively as some tech-and-Apple geeks I know. I do know that the products he helped to design made the last year or so of my mom's life nearly bearable, eased her gradual loss of ability for both her and her friends and family. For that, I am deeply grateful. I hope that the end of his life was nearly bearable for him and for his friends and family.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Design is not about what the public thinks they want, but what they actually need. And your world was made (if-ever-so-slightly) better by a man with the vision and ability to create those tools.

thank you for sharing a story about two amazing people.