Letters of Life

Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing: Steve Jobs (1955–2011)

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. — John Keats, poet, 1795–1821

Steve Jobs (1955 — 20110) made the personal computer a computer with personality; it appealed to the artist in every technogeek, it stirred the poet in every writer, it realized every designer’s dreams of publishing his own graphic art.

Much has and will be said about Mr Jobs’ contribution to the digital and the tele-entertainment world.

Much will be said about his talents, his passion, his singular vision, how he changed the modern world.

My tribute to this Renaissance man is his creation of the digital font or typeface, and with that, a simultaneous creation of a world, now unimaginable without, of desktop publishing. He made us all into typographers, once a specialized occupation, and turned every aspiring writer and graphic artist into an editor and art director with the freedom to publish independently.

The word font originally had to do with the art of typography (circa the 15th century). English-speaking printers (by which I mean humans) have used the term fount for centuries to refer to the metal type used to assemble and print in a certain size and typeface. Mr Jobs merged this ancient art  with the digital world, and made the almost-extinct ‘font’ ageless and more beautiful than ever.

In the 1980s, Mr Jobs’ Macintosh dispensed with the prevalent use of sterile dot matrix fonts in computers. His were among the first computers to use fonts which were bitmaps. You can read the back story of how Mr Jobs convinced the engineers at Adobe Systems to use PostScript as the graphical interface between the Macintosh and laser printers so that people like me and you could create elegant type and awesome graphics.

The Mac SE was indispensable at work — we had to use Times Roman to write our stories– at home, I played an early role-playing game (RPG) called Wizardy on the SE to destress. My favourite font was probably the elegant Helvetica, but I loved Los Angeles for its casual cool script, much like the city of my youthful memories. Los Angeles, Chicago and Athens are a few fonts rendered obsolete, but I’m glad Geneva and Monaco are still around. Of course, there are new ones like Myanmar, Baghdad and Osaka.

I don’t think I could have ever written my short stories and poems in dot matrix.

The digital font has made the art of words and letters–typography–immortal. And Mr Jobs, who made us all artists without us realizing it, who made us all designers by default through our choice of digital fonts–like it or not, lives on through this thing of beauty. This joy forever.

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