Paul McCloskey


Steve Jobs' government legacy: Citizen-centric computing

The death of Steve Jobs takes away an incandescent spirit that in one way or another influenced the technology, business and ultimately the cultural life of the country. His ability to  pursue, deliver and maintain his vision of almost intimately personal computing was an epic accomplishment. 

As many have noted, the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad represented advances in the experience of using technology at an individual, human level that were orders of magnitude beyond his competitors in personal computing. Ironically, it was this almost paranormal insight into the human factors of computing that put Apple behind in the race for market share in the first couple of decades of the PC era. 

The early iterations of the Mac were not institutional machines designed to facilitate a chain of command. Instead, they were pods for self expression. With a Mac you could explore your own interests, illustrate your imagination. 

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In the federal government, as in the business world, Macs have generally been an oddity. Yet even in government,  there have been workers, members of a small but growing cult of Mac users, who by the late 1980s had formed a government Mac Users Group. From the fringes of the scientific and computing worlds, they met on their own time to share ideas on how to employ the Macintosh for personal uses as well as to explore its uses for research and agency projects. 

I recall getting calls at the time from members of this group complaining that Apple and the Macintosh were not being adequately covered in the press. They had zeal for the Mac, a current of cultish enthusiasm directly traceable back to Jobs himself.

Today, groups of this type have replicated throughout the public sector. While not an iron horse of business or government computing, the Mac and Apple's products are at the forefront of citizen-centric computing — the business equivalent of Jobs-style personal computing. A typical example is Boston Citizen Connect, which enables people to report or photograph potholes and other trouble spots in the city and file an immediate report to the appropriate city office. 

This type of technology-enabled application is a revolution in the making for government computing and, again, it’s directly traceable to Jobs and his eye for technology that people love to hold in their hands. 

In the past month, more than 25 federal government contracts were signed with government agencies for Apple products, ranging from iPads to Macbooks to OS X maintenance. The Small Business Administration even purchased iTunes cards, according to the Government Contracting Tips website. 

These are small numbers for now, but they're sure signs that that Jobs will continue to influence how government works, and especially how individual citizens — government end users, you could say — join in the fray.


About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.


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