By Adam B. Vary
Updated October 06, 2011 at 06:06 PM EDT
Credit: Adam B. Vary/EW

The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan, famously capped with a massive glass cube, is currently covered a white shroud, as if in mourning for the passing of the company’s co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs. The cube is actually undergoing renovations, swapping out dozens of smaller glass panels that make up its surface for just 15 larger ones, described with Jobs-ian panache as “seamless” by signs out front. In a way, it serves as a perfect tribute to Jobs’ famously relentless pursuit of elegance, quality, and thoughtful precision.

The other tribute to Jobs growing outside the Fifth Ave. Apple Store is neither elegant nor precise, but I imagine Jobs would still be deeply moved by the spontaneous shrine of flowers, written tributes, and lots and lots of McIntosh apples. (A few even had a bite taken out of them.) Passersby clumped in front of the stone steps hosting the shrine to take pictures (often using Apple products) — that is, when they could elbow room in between the gaggle of reporters (like me) documenting the scene for posterity.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

While it could just be a byproduct of the store’s location near Central Park and the 5th Avenue shopping mecca, I was nonetheless impressed and moved by how many foreign tourists were taking the time to stop by the store, snap a photo, and pay their respects. The Apple employees standing outside the entrance to the store (yes, it was still open, 24 hours a day) took in the gathering with wistful smiles, which is all the comment they could offer due to Apple’s policy of employees not speaking with the press. (One Apple employee, a man from Barcelona with an impressive beard, left his own large bouquet of flowers at the shrine, with a note thanking Jobs for “planting the seed” of creativity in him.)

Elsewhere, a mother reminisced about the thousands of photos she’s uploaded online via iPhoto. An elderly man, hunched over with a cane, stopped to read some of the written messages at the shrine, an iPad tucked underneath his arm. A voluble businessman with his tiny dog standing beside him shared with anyone who would listen his thoughts on Jobs’ commitment not just to business and technology, but to the emotional experience of using that technology in our daily lives.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Mostly, though, people remained silent. We’re all used to an outpouring of grief when a luminary of movies, television or music passes away, or an iconic leader, or a sports star. But it is rare indeed when our collective bereavement is due to the loss of someone who invents the tools for those more glamorous celebrities to use to make their stars brighter. Of course, Jobs helped create tools for all of us to feel a bit brighter and more connected. Maybe that’s why so many are so sad about losing someone we’ve usually only seen via the warm pixels of a computer monitor.

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