October 06, 2011, 2:23 PM — Within minutes after Apple released the news last night that Steve Jobs had passed away the Internet began to fill with sorrow and tributes of a kind that would be alien and inappropriate for most other big-business CEOs.
Almost as soon as the news seeped out – even before it hit any of the news services -- #ThankYouSteve was trending upward on Twitter.
In New York pepper-spray-and-shoving matches between protesters and police sparked a micro-panic among supporters on IRC channels and the live video feed that kept messages flowing so quickly they were almost impossible to read and participants begged for moderators to thin out the traffic so updates didn't scroll offscreen too quickly to be read.
Even in that gabble of outrage, concern, reports of injuries or arrests, expressions of support and advice – in a multicast conversation focused in real time on events, people and issues that had nothing to do with Apple or Steve Jobs or the PC revolution or the iPhone counter-revolution – people found time and space to express very personal sorrow at the loss of the iMaster.
An astonishing number sounded as if they had suffered the loss of a close relative or family friend, not the CEO of a computer manufacturing company, a reserved and quirky man with a reputation for being difficult to work for, awkward to talk with who displayed among strangers little of the warm, fan-friendly personality he displayed on stage.
No other figure in computing would prompt so sincere and personal a response. The response to a tragedy befalling Bill Gates, despite a second career as philanthropist and do-gooder that may become as successful as his first as a rapacious, monopolistic software mogul, wouldn't even compare.
Even those who are not raging Apple Fanboys seemed to feel a personal connection with the man, with the social and technical revolution he helped to launch.
Some of that comes from Jobs' personal history of vulnerability – born to an unwed mother, given up for adoption, growing up feeling alienated and awkward, searching for a way to make his life matter in ways too big for the college education he cut short to play with nerd toys in a garage with his friend Woz.
By rights Jobs should have been a satellite to Woz, whose talent designing and building smart things out of dumb ones was much greater than Jobs'.