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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Steve Jobs: The Stuff of Memories
October 7, 2011 - 9:00am

We all knew he was ill, but his passing still comes as a shock to many people. We have come a long way since our first introduction to an Apple computer. Reading about his magnificent public biography can't help but make us think about our own personal journeys. That those journeys have computers, network systems and applications woven into them says a lot about our age.

But the technology is also a vehicle to memory about qualities deeper then technology itself. Mine goes to the man I married and with whom I have two children. We are not together now, but that fact does nothing to tarnish the abiding love and gratitude I have for him. A Macintosh computer makes an appearance in that story.

When we met, I was an assistant professor in history, applying to law school as had long been my career plan. We decided to be together in Ithaca, where he as working at Cornell, even though I was teaching at the University of Buffalo, and so I applied to Cornell Law School. When I showed him my application, circa 1990, his response was, "It looks like a ransom letter." In retrospect, it did! Type and print combined together had that messy look excused only by the absence of technology to make things cleaner. Access to that technology long before it became commercially available was his game. Out came a scanner and ... a Mac II computer. Before I knew it, I was word processing the application. It came out neat and fresh. When I received the acceptance letter some time later, I turned to him and said, "We did it!"

Coming up in law, P.C.s were the only game, so it took a job in IT, Polley McClure and a security incident to persuade me to a Mac. If that testament wasn't enough, then the day a couple of years later when I spilled a full cup of coffee on my machine told the tale. I started to cry. Polley kindly said not to worry, which alleviated the work worry, but that is not what reduced me to tears. It was the me inside the machine. I had a convert's love of the design that facilitated the flow of ideas and crafted expression. I was the proud owner of a silver message to the world that I was a part of something exciting all around us.

When my younger son, Sam, was about 7, he told me the parents of a friend were divorcing. I said I was sorry to hear that news. He said it was okay, because the boy's parents fought a lot and now it was peaceful for his friend at home. After a few minutes I asked Sam what he told his friends the reason for his own parent's divorce. He was quiet for a minute, probably trying to remember back to a time when he was very young. "Because Dad uses Mac and Mom uses a P.C." We transitioned our marriage peacefully, so it was the only difference that Sam could think of!

A few years later, Sam had to give a class presentation on a person he looked up to and respected. Instead of researching and writing a speech on, say, Abraham Lincoln, he went off to school that morning uncharacteristically dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans. I learned later from the teacher when it was his turn, he made no introduction. He simply walked up to the front of the class with his iPod and sold it as if he were before a crowd of thousands on a stage in San Francisco. No explanation was necessary, everyone knew it was Steve Jobs.


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