When Steve Jobs couldn’t get his Wi-Fi up at the 2010 unveiling of his iPhone 4, many Apple geeks turned to their Mayan calendars and began planning for their final days.
When a technology geek can’t get his Wi-Fi up, it’s cause for concern. In the world of technology, performance is everything and an inadequate signal is akin to getting sand kicked in your face. In the world of technology, the beach is not the coolest hotspot, and the geek is the lifeguard.
But, when Steve Jobs couldn’t get his Wi-Fi up, it wasn’t Mr. Jobs who blew a circuit breaker. It was the other 6.9 billion members of the human race who did. It was as if the planet’s axial tilt had shifted 10 degrees. A collective gasp could be heard cell tower to cell tower, from San Francisco to Slovenia.
Forty minutes into his keynote speech, as he attempted to dazzle the audience with his latest gadget, the world’s most famous geek, whose demos are, as CNET described them, “known for being perfectly choreographed from beginning to end” was tripped up. Instead of dazzle, a pedestrian message popped up on his big screen: “Cannot Open Page”
The unthinkable happened. The man who saved the “world of technology” from eternal greyscale and Apple Inc. from the clutches of death was human after all. The man whose innovations could be found in the pockets and palms of grandmothers, truckers, teens, and ten-year-olds, not to mention closeted Apple lovers inhabiting the cubicles at Microsoft, had been brought down by his own devices.
Smart phones quaked, blogs exploded. Chilly headlines blew across the internet like a mistral wind.
“Steve Job’s failed keynote demo blamed on iPhone 4″
“Ten reasons why an iPhone 4 is a bad idea”
“Steve Jobs demo hits snag”
It was true. For a few moments, Steve Jobs couldn’t get his Wi-Fi up, and for a few moments he seemed as human as any of us who’ve ever had a PowerPoint presentation fail at a roadside La Quinta Inn. It was a rare “sand-in-your-face” moment for the lifeguard.
What could possibly trip up the Baryshnikov of CEOs? Never mind that he was dealing with pancreatic cancer, Stage 4.0, that his weight loss was breathtaking. When he showed up that day in his signature black turtleneck and bluejeans, we assumed all was well with the world.
What would trip him up would be his brothers-in-arms — an audience of geeks and their more than 570 gadgets — all using Wi-Fi, jamming the conference hall’s Wi-Fi signals and disrupting the wireless connection to the very thing they had all gathered to witness that day — a demonstration of the iPhone 4.
Once he dusted the sand from his face and convinced the gadget-happy audience to turn off their devices, he dazzled them with a live video conference between two iPhones, changing once again the way we humans do things. No longer was a desktop computer or even a laptop necessary to video conference. All that was needed could be pulled out of your pocket.
By the time Christmas stockings were hung by the fire with care, nearly 16 million of them were stuffed with fourth generation iPhones.
When Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple in late August, many Apple users (and those who’ve reaped the benefits from their cloned devices) felt an unquestionable dread. We came to depend, not only on the perfectionism in the gadgets he handed us, but on that boyish vision of our future and a fearlessness to ask, “Why not?”
When the world’s most famous geek died last week, we found our sorry selves on an empty beach, looking out at a sea of devices. There, a sign was posted, and as we got closer, we could see the writing on the wall:
“Warning: No Lifeguard on Duty”