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Raymond Leon Roker

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Not Far From the Tree: How an Apple Gave Me Life

Posted: 10/06/11 09:42 AM ET

I'm hardly alone in my lamenting the passing of such an iconic genius as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs or in celebrating his immeasurable contributions to technology and culture. But I'm moved to not only share in the collective outpouring of emotion for a man most of us have never met -- and we may rightfully be accused of idealizing to at least some extent -- but also how his life's work helped me pursue mine. I've never lost sight of Jobs' role in creating the indispensable tools that gave me a creative platform and career. And, by extension, helped me touch so many others through printed and digital media.

In my house, there's a large charcoal rendering of me in my studio apartment, working on the first issues of URB Magazine two decades ago. In the image sketched by my friend Overton Loyd, I'm at my desk on an early Apple Macintosh computer, busy on PageMaker layouts, long into the night. It was the first computer equipment I ever bought, and it kicked off an epic entrepreneurial adventure. From this tiny Hollywood flat with a paid staff of zero, I had become a first generation desktop magazine publisher.

Only a year before, I was new to Macs. I had ignored them while at LA Trade Technical College, opting out of the frustrating on-screen tutorial and thinking to myself, "Where's this 'mouse' ever going to get me?" But when I met a new friend in the graphic design department of the company we both worked at, I was immediately struck by his prowess on the beige machines I had found so unimpressive in school. From that sudden awakening, I saw the power of the pixel far more clearly than my college instructors struggled to explain to me, much less comprehend themselves.

For the first time, I envisioned a future for myself that combined my passion for music, art and urban culture, with the technology that could package it for hundreds and thousands to consume. It was an epiphany and quickly hotwired the future of this mischievous student who failed 12th grade English, but who knew he had something more inside himself. I would come to write in our masthead, "Exploit technology before it exploits you" and I was the embodiment of that at work. Throughout our life in print (we went digital-only in 2009), I'd also shout out our allegiance to Apple in the same masthead, a once defiant pledge to the platform I'd build my future on.

People may have eventually become enamored with the Steve Jobs 2.0 Generation of iPods, Nanos and iPads--all of which would dramatically fuel and shape my life of music, media and imagery. But 20 years ago, just the act of producing a magazine from your kitchen was a solitary task left to a handful of adventurers. Publishing was the domain of large corporations or limited to photocopied and stapled fanzines unworthy of a proper newsstand. But the Macintosh unleashed thousands of indie publishers on the world, the same way electronic music tools and software opened up the creation of sound to a generation of desktop producers. It was nothing short of revolutionary. A paradigm shift that would make careers, drive creativity to new heights, and power cottage and soon-to-be mass industries such as indie filmmaking, record labels and countless bloggers. Legions of visual design studios would bring sophisticated graphics and typography to the mainstream, much of this the direct result of Apple's beautiful, intuitive and accessible tools.

It wasn't lost on me that Apple was the only voice that spoke to me in those early days of my magazine. IBM, Microsoft, and others failed to notice or even consider somebody like a black kid with a semi-formal education and visions of a hip-hop culture rag in his future. Only Apple said to me, go forth--and think differently--here are the tools, we made them with you in mind. It seems almost silly to think of it that way now that Apple is destined to be a $100B company this year, having already surpassed its once archrival Microsoft. But back then, their alternative pathway--perceived or real--was just what a kid like me needed.

No doubt, I'm an Apple fanboy. And, by extension, Steve Jobs has long been at hero status in my book. Like my adoration for the hip-hop pioneers whose actions created a world I'd grow up in, my love for the Apple brand is just as rooted in my coming of age. And as I mourn the loss of the company's driving force and visionary, I can also tap into my familiar keyboard in a profound and deeply felt way, "Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you for everything."

 

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