ADOTAS – Right as Portishead sprinkled the final notes of “Sour Times” (“’cause nobody loves me… Not like you do“), a bearded patron of the Hammerstein Ballroom show stood up and demanded the attention of the second balcony audience.
“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “Steve Jobs has died.”
Most of the crowd didn’t flinch. “Sheesh, that’s old news,” snorted the girl sitting to my right.
Not to me, I thought — I had left my iPhone at home to avoid any distractions from the Portishead concert, the band’s first performance in NYC in 13 years and my first opportunity to see them ever. At the same time, the news sounded like an out-of-control Twitter rumor following Apple lovers’ disappointment with the iPhone 4S announcement.
And the way Mr. Beard belted out the announcement suggested that breaking the solemn news of Jobs’ death somehow made him important. But these are the times we live in — our digital toys, be they physical (smartphone) or virtual (social network), serve as instant ego pumps.
Of course, thanks to Jobs and company, there was an easy way to find if the Apple cofounder had passed.
“Is it true?” I asked my wife, who pulled out her own iPhone. Throughout the un-engaging opening act, she had been catching up with her social circle courtesy of the Facebook app. The top story on her favorite news app was “Steve Jobs Dies at Age 56.”
I didn’t need to see anymore — Jobs’ fight against pancreatic cancer was well-known, and made him of model of perseverance when he launched Apple’s most important products (certainly the ones that turned Apple into the most valued company in the world) following his diagnosis in 2004.
“You’re going to have a lot to write tomorrow,” the wife commented.
As Portishead launched into the cowbell-driven “Magic Doors,” possibly my favorite track of their last album, “Third,” I thought about the endless tributes I’d see across the Internet today — from the mainstream press, from the tech media, from the blogs, from my friends on Facebook. When he announced his resignation from Apple in August, it seemed as if he already had been eulogized. I wondered if some pubs would simply reprint what they had published that week.
And what would I write? What would I type out on my Apple keyboard hooked up to my MacBook?
The deification of Jobs drove me nuts, symbolic of a disturbing trend of idolization driven by omnipresent media. The cult of Mac and the Apple worshippers still freak me out — it’s just technology, folks. Steve Jobs was a man — a brilliant man that led a company full of brilliant souls back from the dead to rule the field of consumer electronics.
Disagree if you must, but the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad are the standard models for their device fields. Sure, other digital music players, smartphones and tablet computers existed before, but Jobs & crew revolutionized the user interface/user experience. It wasn’t surprising as they did the same thing for personal computers with the Mac OS. Much of the functionality was there for such devices, only using them delivered migraines. That was Jobs’ true genius — fantastic insight into UX configuration.
Now you really can’t look at or use any (quality) portable MP3 player, smartphone or tablet without recognizing its roots in Apple products — and by extension, Jobs. As I joked to my wife last night, “Steve Jobs’ legacy may be that any asshole can use a smartphone.”
At the same time, he shoved the doors wide open for mobile marketing, which had been pretty much limited to text marketing, with the introduction of the iPhone. Suddenly mobile search (now with geolocation!) and display on the mobile web and within mobile applications were not only feasible, but necessary for reaching consumers on the move. Beyond that, mobile social interactions led to innovations in mobile couponing and branding. Engagement possibilities seemed endless.
In addition, the iAd may not have set a standard for mobile advertising, but it definitely inspired a whole new generation of rich media mobile advertising with the concept of an app within an app.
All these thoughts ran through my mind as Beth Gibbons, whose voice is just as powerful and haunting as it was on Portishead’s debut, “Dummy,” moaned the exit melody to “Wandering Star.” Somewhere on stage I reckoned a MacBook Pro was toiling away, adding to the soundscape. No doubt backstage more Apple products were being employed to deliver the fantastic sound and light show, furthering the enjoyment of our consumer experience.
Staring over the audience in the general admission area below, a swath of glowing screens danced among the darkened mass of people. It’s a sight I still haven’t become used to — crowds busily using their smartphones and tablets during concerts, effectively adding an audience light show. Some were snapping pictures, some were recording video, some were catching audio, some were sharing with friends and the world the fact that they, right at this very moment, were loving the first Portishead show in New York City in 13 years — OMG, don’t you wish you were here?
And then guitarist Adrian Utley picked the opening notes of “Over.” Gibbons sang in a desperate whisper:
I can’t hold this day
I can’t mold this stage
With Steve Jobs’ death, we’ve lost a beacon in the disorienting world of technological innovation, a visionary who made constantly evolving digital tools accessible to the masses. For better or worse, Apple’s innovations empowered consumers with the connectivity that had long been the stuff of science fiction.
Jobs arguably paved the digital future for consumers and thus became the icon for our constant state of connection — and goodness, how powerful swimming in the endless communication stream makes us feel. The sensations of importance and stability this state of connectivity brings us.
Without Jobs, to quote Portishead again, uncertainty is taking us over.