Just before I got the news tonight, I was riding a newly-purchased bicycle over Berlin’s Eisenbrücke, and thinking again about the way Steve Jobs described the computer – as a bicycle for the mind. It was something about feeling effortless speed, all from something that needs no fuel, that made it hit me. I can think of no more hopeful metaphor for what computers could ultimately mean – for music, for creativity, and for people. It was just coincidence that this thought happened to hit me today, nothing more, but that’s the lasting endurance of an idea.

Steve Jobs’ loss is already clogging Twitter. Many of our other technological pioneers, when they go, won’t be so lucky, as the generation that invented computers passes into history. But to Mr. Jobs’ credit, despite his reputation, he was someone who regularly celebrated their contributions, too, often above his own. And if we thought of nothing else he said, if we never touched so much as an Apple-branded display dongle again, I think the notion of a bicycle for the mind could keep us busy for … well, for the rest of our lives. It’s a shame they’re all so brief.

And I’m hopeful that Steve’s most succinct vision of the computer will be what endures – through the work of friends and colleagues at Apple, and far beyond Cupertino, in the work all of you reading this site do. To Steve, for that image even more than the machines we grew up with, thanks.

Bicycle photo (CC-BY-SA) paukrus, after a vintage original.

  • Lee Faulkner

    RIP Steve.

    I didn't know this story … thanks.

    As a mere customer who emailed Mr Jobs 6 times over the past 10 years … and who received 3 replies and a phone call (really…) all I can say is the man ran his company on making the products as good as they could possibly be at that moment. WE should all just try that hard…

  • http://www.beautypill.com Chad Clark

    Try to say this and mean it:

    "Steve Jobs didn't change my life."

    You can't.

    - c

  • http://Beckinfield.com Tracy evans

    Peter, thanks for posting this wonderfully thoughtful moment from Steve's life and legacy.

  • Smash Hat

    RIP

  • Markus Schroeder

    I was not always happy with Steve´s decisions but the whole has been always better by far than any other comparable product out there. And mostly because of his vision (or "the lack of it by his competitors", P.K.) many competitor´s products would not even exist alt all.

    Thanks, Steve,

    you will be remembered forever

  • Kheper

    I didn't know that I would miss Steve Jobs, but now that he's "gone to the West" I now know that I do miss him.

    Apple won't be the same without him. He sure had some great moments being human.

  • Jim

    That's an intriguing concept I hadn't heard it before. I don't know if he was interested in it or not but I think it's a shame that Apple under Steve's influence will not contribute to the growing personal fabrication movement – which I believe to be the next wave and extends the idea of computer as tool very necessarily into the world of the tangible. I would, in other words, love to have seen Apple make a 3D printer.

  • 5meohd

    thanks for sharing peter. 

  • bliss

    Steve, your work, creativity, and vision made a positive impact on my life at the very first moment when I learned who you were. The world and I needed you then, and are missing you now. Thank you for caring enough to share your extraordinary gifts with all of us. You were truly an exemplary human being; one of the finest that our species has ever produced. May you rest in peace.

    ~bliss

  • http://www.ichicuts.com Ichicuts

    Never heard that quote before… damn. That will be echoing through my head for some time. Thanks.

  • Buttworms

    im in tears, my little white oligarch, how could this have happened?  couldn't he buy another mansion somewhere to exploit an organ transplant waiting list?

    this cant be… STEVE…. STEEEVE NOOOOO

    goodnight sweet prince… thanks for like, all the computers and shit, or whatever

  • Peter Kirn

    Actually, you know what, for once, I'm deleting irrelevant comments.

    I didn't know Steve Jobs. But I have some people I do know, whom I really look up to, who worked with him. I'll be damned if people use the death of someone's colleague and friend to dump on them. 

    I also care pretty deeply about environmental, human rights, and labor concerns. And I'll be equally damned if I watch people cheapen those significant issues by bringing them up in a context that's inappropriate, in a way that shows profound lack of understanding or respect for real, serious issues that go beyond any single CEO. Those issues deserve attention, too, in a forum that affords them the depth they deserve. And they're irrelevant here.

    Rant over. Just in case we get commenters complaining about deleted comments.

  • http://zeroreference.blogspot.com zeroreference

    Bicycles for the mind. Amen. In that spirit I'd like to link to Alan Kaye's (a seminal computer scientist and someone who inspired Steve Jobs) idea of the Dynabook – essentially, an open, 'active computing' iPad designed explicitly for the purpose of helping children (and adults) learn and grow. A bicycle for the mind:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynabook

    For all the complaints about openness or his behavior which could level against him, Steve Jobs pushed the dream forward.

  • Peter Kirn

    Interesting quote in a linked article, too:

    "Kay believes that computers can be much more powerful than most people can imagine today. A significant component of the Dynabook’s usage model was that its users would be able to easily develop simple applications. For example, even children could use simple yet effective graphics-based script languages to understand and translate experiments as well as to modify and write their own scripts and eventually entire programs such as games."
    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/alan-kay-steve-j

    Worth reading the whole article. In it, Alan Kay argues that he wanted Jobs to return to the earlier pro-education agenda at Apple.

    Without commenting on Jobs' contribution, this to me illustrates the way there's plenty of work to be done — carrying on some of the bigger ideas.

  • http://zeroreference.blogspot.com zeroreference

    Yeah, definitely! I'll check out that article. Kay's original paper is linked in that Wikipedia article too – it's definitely going on my "I'll read it someday list" :) . I don't know much about it, but Kay's programming languages designed for children sound fascinating. As has been discussed on this site before, what is the difference between a video game and a music application? Or really, a video game and any application? Or Wikipedia – a 'knowledge game?' What can we be doing as learning, libraries, and interfaces share more and more DNA – computer code and the human interaction with the machine?

    CDM is a space where these issues of interface and philosophy often arise in the context of digital music and instrument creation.

    I always think that the DJ is the great contemporary model for many things – both a listener, creator, curator (record collector), and educator (in that part of the DJ ethos is a respect for history and dropping a little knowledge here and there). 

    And, of course, we can't talk about 'bicycles for the mind' without giving a nod to Kraftwerk! I don't know his background, but it'd be fitting for Jobs to have a little German minimalism in him.

  • Peter Kirn

    I'll take personal attacks on me seriously if people leave a real email. ;) But yes, thanks to other people leaving thoughtful and challenging and genuinely interesting comments.

    And yes, I'm not sure what Alan Kay's describing in terms of new programming models has even been invented or fully imagined yet. There's something interesting to work on.

  • rogerroger

    best obit i've seen anywhere on the net. thank you, this is why i read this site- compassion, humanity and technology- brilliant! 

  • http://noisepages.com/members/substrain/ substrain

    Bravo, Steve. Bravo!

  • manakist

    Shame about those pesky suicides Steve

  • remix

    thanks for posting this Peter.  Steve will be missed, he was insanely great.

  • remix

    one more thing.

    this website could not be here without Steve.  the web would not exist.  why? Tim Berners-Lee invented the web on his NeXT box.  no NeXT no web.

    everyone since 1976 is living in a world that he made possible.  before that computers were for governments and large businesses.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, I expect Tim Berners-Lee would simply have used a different make of computer, and Jobs alone didn't create the personal computer, so I have to take issue with your historical accuracy. But he was a big part of the specifics of the shape things took, not so much of the Web but the computer as a product. 

    This site is probably more indebted to the specific *audio* capabilities of the NeXT box, as it accelerated development of what would become Max/MSP (and Pd), and digital audio processing by computer in general.