The five year old holding my hand is Katie. Balancing on a fallen tree, a great oak now decaying in a forest floor, she shuffles along in her princess dress and baseball cap, happily trying to catch the larger kids down the path. Kids who scampered only moments ago, with ease, along the same log.
She isn’t my daughter. I’m just chaperoning a little school walk in the woods. 23 children scampering about in this urban old growth forest, laughing and pushing, trying to obey the commands of the now cautious elders, while their youth is calling them to run run run.
Now off the log, Katie stops on the path. She has noticed something the others missed. A worm, maybe four inches, wiggling along, in a spot a worm should never be. I kneel down with her and she grins.
“Look Mr. Adkins.”
I pick it up, violating a rule. She needs to see it live, to wiggle, to fight for a moment in our hands. Pleased, we find a new home off the path for the little guy. Katie names us the Worm Patrol. Excellent.
In 2009, only yards from our forest path, I ran into a man in a turtleneck being pushed in a wheelchair along an interior road, closed to cars, now little more than a jogging path, a perimeter bit of asphalt where the kids stop being explorers in Neverland and return to little students lined up buddy style for the march back to school.
I saw this man, with a nurse and an individual pushing the chair, slowing moving up a bit of an incline, a late April breeze blowing across his frail frame. Nobody else was around. In a city / region of 1.4 million, it was if we were the only people on earth.
As we grew closer I realized who I was seeing. It was Steve Jobs, recovering from a liver transplant. There was no doubt. And as my wife and I grew closer I was certain. Certain it was Jobs, certain I wanted to hug him, to say hi, to thank him for the iPhone in my hand. I knew he had been sick, but didn’t know he was in my home town recovering from a transplant until news began to leak out. When I saw him, it was without knowledge, and he was just a blue jean and turtleneck apparition, weakly smiling and looking into the trees.
I let him pass with only an “good afternoon” and a smile, not letting on that I knew who he was.
I whispered to my wife after we passed, “That was Steve Jobs.”
She didn’t believe me. I looked back and saw him slowly disappearing around a bend with his two companions, birds chirping, wind drifting, cool air freshening, squirrels hopping and chattering. Jobs, comforted by a forest that had never seen development, or technology, saved from becoming an interstate by a Supreme Court ruling around the same time Jobs was introducing the world to the Apple Computer. It was a perfect juxtaposition. Tragically his cancer would return and we would lose him not long after. But in that moment I was glad to see him, and see him in that way.
I’m from that generation we call X. Post boomer, narcissistic, individual, yet grew up with technology. We were born with it, playing Pong as children and going to arcades to play Joust and Defender and Centipede, then scraping money together to buy the first Apple II and IIe and Commodore 64s. Computers which would sit there, just blinking at you, until you programmed them yourself.
We grew with the tech, saw the advent of everyday cell phone use in our 20s, the Internet suddenly being a thing with graphic browsers called Mosaic and Mozilla. Many of us got jobs in the tech world, the gaming world, and built the digital universe we have today. Even men like Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook. My generation gave birth to the digital universe that millennials just assume exists, and has always existed.
When I saw Jobs, the iPad was not out yet and the original iPhone was only a few years old. And now in 2019, we live in an augmented, hybrid reality, where half or more of our existence is within the digital landscape. We are slowing becoming TRON. My children will live in a time where your digital identity is more important than your physical one. We might be there already in truth. As a gen X guy, I find that sad.
And so the other day Tim Cook trots out for a keynote, huckstering all the new Apple offerings like a weathered farmer at a market. Movies. Streaming. Jennifer Aniston. Hi Jennifer, let’s get coffee. And that’s it. His “one more thing”, his dive into the future was bringing out a Gen X girl, who granted is awesome, but I would think even in her own mind was saying, “This is it? New content?”
Jobs was famous for being, well, prickly. He had a vision for the future, one that his company would make. He built the devices we didn’t even know we needed, and now can’t go 30 seconds without. Cook is without vision, a worker bee just pouring coffee into the vessel Jobs built. He’s turned Apple into a digital Starbucks, filling orders.
Jobs, I believe, never wanted it to be this way. He was an internet of things guy. He was in love with the sexiness of the device, the simplicity of the function. He intended for us to own the devices, not the other way around. Even iTunes when launched, was where you could BUY and own your music.
Now we just stream. Content upon content to devices not enriching our experience but overwhelming it. And all Cook can come up with is more shit to pump at you. It is a complete failure of imagination, and counter to Jobs’ vision.
So I think back to 2009, 10 years ago almost to the month, seeing our technological pied piper, and I remember him rolling slowing through the park, gently smiling. No technology around. No streaming, no tweeting, no checking mentions, no likes, no shares, no updates.
Just Jobs fighting cancer, in a chair with wheels, pushed by people that loved him.
No content can replace that. No digital world can capture the instant of me passing Jobs, in that second his life winding to the end, and mine just catching steam. The original technology of a wheel and manual labor guiding his path, and an iPhone and headphones guiding mine. There was a balance there, full of color and sound and the work of birds and animals, mixed with the ability to be given a new organ, and then call friends on a cell phone to say, “Guess who I just saw.”
Technology not for tech’s sake, but rather to keep a man alive so he could be pushed through the woods and breathe some spring air. Tech not for me to snap a photo of an ailing, yet recovering man, and hit share, but rather to put away and just offer a polite hello.
So Katie found a worm.
That’s as it should be.