Like so many, I was saddened to hear about the death of Steve Jobs today.
He made technology into art.
He was one of the true visionaries of our time. The products that Apple created while he was at their helm revolutionized computers, communication, and music. My Apple products have enabled me to create wonderful things.
My son Dylan drew the self-portrait above using an app on his dad’s iPhone. Dylan took to the touch screen interface of the iPhone like a duck to the proverbial water, and he was suddenly able to create and communicate in ways he couldn’t before. For those of you who don’t know, Dylan is autistic. The iPad has done such revolutionary things for individuals with autism that many special education programs are now using them in the classroom, and Dylan has been able to use one at school. I know there are programs to try to match families with autistic individuals with iPads, too.
My husband wrote an email to Steve Jobs in May 2010 conveying our thanks for the innovative products that Apple has created that have unlocked Dylan, for lack of a better word. Here is my husband’s email.
When my wife got an iPod Touch a couple of years ago our son had only just begun to speak. He was 5 and had been mute till age 4. He was diagnosed with autism and indeed, is a classic autistic child in many respects. His affect is often flat, he speaks now but doesn’t proactively communicate, he tends to obsess on seemingly odd, random things, flaps his hands, etc.
We started letting him play with the Touch and we quickly discovered that the little boy who had become what seemed like a closed-off mystery to us around 18 months or so not only had a vivid imagination and interests all his own, he also found the Touch an irresistible way to navigate the Web. With no help whatsoever he discovered the Youtube app. Then he found the Google mobile app. Through the Touch interface he could find any video he wanted (he is obsessed with movie logos in particular) and find images & websites that interested him. His facility with the Touch was amazing, really.
We were afraid Dylan, our son, would always be closed off from the world around him, walled in by his disability. Then we realized through his use of the Touch that he was going to find ways, whenever possible, to explore the world and to reach out.
We didn’t really understand how he could use these tools to get through to us until the day he was fooling with my iPhone. I took it away from him, miffed because I need it and he had been kind of tough on the iPod Touch, and didn’t think much about it till later, when I was checking out a note-taking app that’s designed to let you write/draw with your finger.
A smiley face with hands and legs is attached to this email. It is the drawing Dylan made with that app. It might not seem like much to a lot of people, but seeing this little smiley waving at me was a kind of milestone. I realized, in some small way, who my son was. It was a greeting and a kind of reassurance. (Actually, I posted Dylan’s smiley on Reddit under a nick because I wanted people to know a little bit of the story and it’s currently the number 1 link on the main page, so maybe a lot of people do understand, after all.)
Twenty years ago, I’m not sure we would have been able to find out nearly as much about Dylan and who he is. There weren’t easy-to-use, straightforward interfaces like those found on the iPhone, Touch & iPad. Were it not for this technology, Dylan might have remained locked inside his head, unable to communicate his interests or in some small way, his feelings to his family, to the world.
So we thank you and we thank Apple. We have some vital knowledge of our little boy, of who he is and what he thinks about, even feels, because of your products. For this reason alone we will always be grateful and will always remain faithful customers.
Steve and Dana Huff
Steve Jobs is somewhat famous for replying to some of the consumer emails he receives, and he sent a short reply to my husband:
From: Steve Jobs <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, May 15, 2010 at 11:26 PM
Subject: Check this out
Its on the iPod and iPad too.
Proloquo2Go™ is a new product from AssistiveWare that provides a full-featured communication solution for people who have difficulty speaking. It brings natural sounding text-to-speech voices, up-to-date symbols, powerful automatic conjugations, a default vocabulary of over 7000 items, full expandability and extreme ease of use to the iPhone and iPod touch.
My husband and I were grateful for the reply. A lot of people would not have taken the trouble, and I don’t like to think about how many emails Steve Jobs received in an average day. It’s not a long email, but it is, in a sense, a typical Steve Jobs response—to share a tool (cue the joke about there being an app for that)—a really, really expensive tool, too, it must be said—that was designed specifically to make the user’s life easier or better in some way.
To me, Steve Jobs is the epitome of what you can do if you allow yourself to fail, to dream, and to find your way. He was a designer in the truest sense of the world, and his innovations made my life better. Though his life was shorter than seems fair, few can say at the end of their lives that they have made as large an impact on the world as he did.
I am hoping that the legacy he leaves behind is that the next generation of creators, innovators, inventors, and engineers continues to “think different.”