steve-jobs_web.jpgAP National Writer

CUPERTINO, Calif. —  In dark suit and bowtie, he is a computing-era carnival barker — eyebrows bouncing, hands gesturing, smile seductive and coy and a bit annoying. It's as if he's on his first date with an entire generation of consumers. And, in a way, he is.

It is Jan. 24, 1984, and a young Steve Jobs is standing at center stage, introducing to shareholders of Apple Computer Inc. the “insanely great'' machine that he's certain will change the world: a beige plastic box called the Macintosh.

Here is the Wizard of Cupertino at the threshold of it all, years before the black mock turtleneck and blue jeans. He is utterly in command of his audience and of his performance. All of the Jobs storytelling staples are emerging.

The hyperbole: “You have to see this display to believe it. It's incredible.”

The villain: “And all of this power fits in a box that is one-third the size and weight of an IBM PC.”

The tease: “Now I'd like to show you Macintosh in person. All of the images you are about to see on the large screen will be generated by what's in that bag.”

He retreats into the shadows, pulls the inaugural Mac out of its satchel. He inserts a disk and boots up. Suddenly, on the screen — roughly pixelated by today's standards but, for 1984, stunning — a typeface rolls by to the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” A pictureof a geisha appears. Then a spreadsheet. Architectural renderings. A game of video chess. A bitmapped drawing of Steve Jobs dreaming of a Mac.

The computer speaks. “Hello. I'm Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag,” it says. “It is with considerable pride that I introduce a man who's been like a father to me: Steve Jobs.”

Applause shakes the place. Steven Paul Jobs, basking in it, tries not to grin. He fails. The future, at this moment, is his.

It is 27 years later now, and Steve Jobs has exited the stage he managed so well. We are left with the talismans of his talent, a tech diaspora: the descendants of that original Mac. The iPod and iTunes, Nanos and Shuffles and Classics and Touches. The Apple Store. The iPhone and the App Store and the iPad 2. They are part of the cultural fabric — tools that make our lives easier and, some insist, sexier and more streamlined.

On a recent lunch hour in Cupertino, de Anza Boulevard, which runs right through the campus of Apple headquarters, is full of pedestrians — the acolytes of Jobs. Stop at a red light and watch as they cross. Invariably, each one carries a device. A woman is engrossed in what's on her iPad. A young man is chatting on an iPhone. Three people wear earbuds with white cords snaking into various pockets. One is singing.

Here's the funny thing. Three days later and 3,000 miles east, an urban crosswalk produces the same sight — human beings interacting with the fruits of the Apple tree, doing what they do with Jobs' vision of progress, integrating his gadgets and their contents into everyday life.

Was he inventor? Salesman? Entertainer? Visionary? Those questions miss the point. Like his devices, Steve Jobs was a medium that led us to other destinations — the ones of our own choosing. That's what made him different. He's gone, but the future he saw is still, quite literally, in our hands.