SJSU in the News: The Legacy of Steve Jobs on the iGeneration

Cassidy: Steve Jobs’ death underscores the rise of the iGeneration

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News Oct. 8, 2011

By Mike Cassidy, Mercury News Columnist

If there ever had been any doubt, the death of Steve Jobs has made one thing abundantly clear:

The Me Generation is dead. The iGeneration rules.

Jobs and the products he masterminded at Apple (AAPL) created a world in which a generation of young people has grown up knowing that the i’s have it. iPods. iTunes. iPhones. iPads. Anyone born since the mid-1990s has lived a life influenced from the beginning by Jobs in ways subtle and not.

For as long as the iGeneration can remember, an infinite series of mobile devices has emanated from 1 Infinite Loop, providing kids with the tools to connect and collaborate with one another while expressing themselves to the world — a feat that can be awkward and difficult for any adolescent to pull off.

“You know how they say, ‘Oh, the kids are the future’? ” Iberys Iglesias, 16, asks. “He’s given us things to better our future.”

Iglesias, a junior at Cupertino’s Homestead High School, which happens to be Jobs’ alma mater, says the Apple co-founder has given her generation the tools to “go more full out.”

It’s not often that an iconic force comes along and changes everything for an entire generation: The Beatles, for Jobs and his boomer cohort; and now Jobs, for Iglesias and her iGeneration cohort.

It makes sense that teens would embrace Jobs and the products he helped produce. Jobs was a lot of things. But he was not a phony. Kids embrace genuineness. They can smell a pretender a mile away.

They also gravitate to those who understand that things don’t have to be done the way they’ve always been done; that in fact the only way to move forward is to ignore the confines of conformity.

Of course, the connection starts with the products, which are undeniably cool in the eyes of a set for which cool really matters. Many in the iGeneration started school about the time computer labs were being outfitted with the fruity-colored iMacs that Jobs introduced after his 1996 return to Apple. Next came an iPod or an iPhone for a birthday present or graduation gift. And then came iTunes and the era of listening to whatever music you wanted to whenever you wanted to.

“You start choosing for yourself,” explains Elizabeth Li, a Milpitas High School senior.

An iDevice is about choosing for yourself. It’s not simply a shiny object in a teenager’s mind. It’s how teens and tweens create and express themselves. Videos, photos, songs, social network posts — oh and homework too. It’s where they live.

As the man who ran Apple and Pixar Animation Studios, Jobs created both childhood memories and a way to capture and revisit them time and again. He inspired a generation to think differently and to believe that with a little creativity they could soar to infinity and beyond.

“They went into all areas of a young person’s life,” Chuck Geschke, the Adobe (ADBE) co-founder whose company was an early ally of Apple, says of the tech behemoth. That was Jobs’ business brilliance at work, creating Apple products that addressed the complexity of teen life, “and understanding young people would be excited about Apple, and once they became used to Apple they would just keep using it,” Geschke says.

The plan seems to be working. But kids don’t talk about Apple devices the way they might talk about a pair of shoes from Nike or a sweatshirt from Abercrombie. There is something deeper here.

Margareta Borcic, now a senior at Homestead, remembers the day in middle school when she got the iPod she’d been waiting for all her life, after watching classmates show off theirs starting in elementary school.

“Finally, one day in seventh grade, my parents got me an iPod Nano,” she says, “and I was so excited. And it was red. And it was beautiful.”

“Beautiful.” Not cool. Not awesome. Not fun. Beautiful.

Another change: It seems unlikely that the youngest among the iGeneration will be waiting until seventh grade to score their first iDevice. Ask any parent who needs to wrestle his or her iPhone away from a toddler to make a phone call. Or ask Vicky Serrano about her iPad.

“I have a 4-year-old, and she knows how to access this,” says Serrano, a 31-year-old molecular biology student at San Jose State. “I have a feeling that children will be a little smarter. At 4 years old, I think it’s amazing that she knows how to work an iPad.”

It is an amazing shift all right but one that members of the iGeneration know is just getting started. They know Jobs has placed them on a path that will likely lead to more marvels and new and better ways to work and play.

“He pretty much made the 21st century,” says Milpitas High School senior Ivan Wu.

Think about it, says San Jose State sophomore Chien Hoang, 18, who was working on his iPad on a quiet study floor at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library downtown. Not long ago, it would be impossible for him to carry with him all he had in this one gadget. Games. Music. School notes. Web access. Camera.

Now? “You have everything you need.”

And really, as one among those who will one day run the world, what more could you want?

Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.