In 1997, I was 6 years old. Bill Clinton was president, we had a budget surplus and all I wanted was a Buzz Lightyear doll complete with working buttons and foldable wings. There was nothing in the world that would have made me happier. My mother called every toy store in Los Angeles asking if they had any more Buzz Lightyear dolls in stock.
“I’m sorry Ma’am, but we’re all sold out,” they told my mother. It turned out other boys wanted Buzz Lightyear dolls, too.
“Would I ever get a Buzz Lightyear?” I asked. “Soon,” my mother would say. “Soon.”
One Tuesday after school I returned home to find a Woody doll on my bed. It wasn’t exactly Buzz Lightyear but the Woody doll was still great. It looked just like Andy’s Woody doll from the movie. You could even pull Woody’s back string and get it to say things like: “There’s a snake in my boot” and “Somebody poisoned the waterhole.”
I never did get a Buzz Lightyear doll. At the much wiser, worldlier age of 7 and half I was able to look back on the absence of a Buzz Lightyear doll in my life as a blessing in disguise. If you remember anything from “Toy Story,” Woody and Buzz usually exist in a state of constant bickering and tension. I realized I didn’t want to put my toys through that sort of turmoil. Granted, “Toy Story” had a redemptive ending wherein Andy’s Woody and Buzz learned valuable lessons in tolerance and friendship, but at 7 and half I imagined Andy’s case to be an exceptional one.
In 2002, I was 13. George W. Bush was president, the Twin Towers had fallen and I’d just had my Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvahs are great because you get to read from the Torah in a suit in front of all the girls in your class, and then your parents throw you a huge dance party for all the hard work they think you did. To top it all off, every relative your parents still speak to creeps out of the woodwork, pinches your cheek, and hands you a check with a sum divisible by 18. Eighteen and its multiples have Kabalistic connotations. Eighteen and its multiples can also be added up to buy you a $400 first generation iPod.
My iPod arrived in the mail soon after my Bar Mitzvah in a clear cube with black and white photographs of Bob Marley and John Lennon on either side. I opened up the cube in front of my whole family, and there it was: my very own iPod. It was so small, so delicate. Its interface was so perfect in its minimalism. This thing, this machine, was truly a work of beauty.
If I told you being the only person in my class with an iPod didn’t make me cooler, I’d be lying. But soon other kids started getting iPods too. By the time I entered sophomore year of high school, everyone had one.
The iPod, like other Apple products, wasn’t just a machine. It was something you invested in, something your cared for. It was also something beautiful, something that someone somewhere put countless hours of hard work and creative energy into. You might dismiss people’s love of Apple products as wanton consumerism, an after effect of the capitalist plague. I am not so cynical. I choose to see people’s love of Apple products as proof of humanity’s craving both for utilitarianism and beauty. I’ve owned few things as sublimely beautiful as my first iPod.
On hearing the news of Steve Jobs’ passing I was forced to reflect on the impact the man had on my life, and my generation as a whole. Every generation has a spokesperson or visionary whose words and ideas come to define it. Jobs never cast himself as a generational spokesperson. He offered no formula for hope or change. He simply wanted to bring things of beauty into a world filled with ugliness and conflict.
The passing of Jobs is indeed a loss for the world at large, yet the tragedy of it should resonate especially with our generation. Jobs was the architect of so many things we found beautiful growing up, from “Toy Story” in our childhood to the iPod in our adolescence. Indeed, our generation has come of age during tumultuous times. We’ve seen our country battered and weary. We’ve seen a president wage wars perceived as futile; and another one make hopeful promises he couldn’t keep. Through it all, Jobs was there, creating things we love, and in turn, making our world just a little more beautiful.
Isaac Himmelman is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]