The Local Steve Jobs
It’s been 35 years since Steve Jobs co-founded Apple, 25 years since he started Pixar, and one day since the memorials began.
Joshua Johnson talked to NPR’s Digital Culture Correspondent, Laura Sydell, about how Jobs was influenced by the Bay Area culture of the 1960′s.
(Update: One memorial being planned: Tonight at Dolores Park, San Francisco, 9 pm.)
Joshua Johnson: It’s been 35 years since Steve Jobs co-founded Apple, 25 years since he started Pixar, and one day since the memorials began. Across the Bay Area and around the world, fans and admirers are leaving flowers, notes and even iPhones with his picture, in a growing memorial befitting a head of state.
But his state, this state, was his domain. And his place, the Bay Area, was his workshop, his playground and his world stage. What is it about our region that fed the man who taught the world to cheer for a computer? Let’s talk about that with NPR’s digital culture correspondent, Laura Sydell. Laura, good morning.
Laura Sydell: Good morning.
Johnson: Steve Jobs, the person he was, the person he became, never really could’ve happened anywhere else but here, could it?
Sydell: I don’t think so. I mean, the thing about Steve Jobs, you have to remember, he’s really, he was an old hippie.
Johnson: An old hippie?
Sydell: An old hippie, yeah. He grew up in an era here, look at the pictures of him and Wozniak, Steve Wozniak, in the early era. Steve Wozniak’s hair is below his shoulders, and they look kind of scruffy. He went off to India. He did LSD. He did all those things that, at a certain moment in time, everybody in the Bay Area was doing, this was the summer of love.
He also had this, he was infused with this feeling of wanting to change the world. And there’s that famous quote from which he recruited John Sculley, from Coca-Cola. And he said, “you want to sell sugar water for your entire life, or do you want to change the world?”
And I think that was very particular to the Bay Area. And we still have a lot of that feeling here, in the Bay Area.
Johnson: If we encountered Jobs back in the 70s, who would we have seen? A very different person than who we had been seeing lately in product unveilings and what not.
Sydell: Yes and no. I mean yes, he had the bow tie, I guess at a certain point, and he would go to do that. But the other interesting thing about him is, I don’t think you entirely would.
He always was this incredible salesman, this incredible speaker, he had a passion — that I think you found throughout his life — for these products. I don’t think that changed significantly. Plus, he never dressed up. He never became a conformist. He’d get on stage, and he’d wear the jeans and the black t-shirt — the black turtleneck. And he kinda did it his own way.
Johnson: I think perhaps the most dressed up I ever saw him was when he unveiled the first Macintosh in 1984. Here’s a bit of how he described that computer, with the features that sounded pretty high-tech back then:
Steve Jobs: With its radical ease-of-use, mouse, windows, icons, pull-down menus, point, click cut and paste. We’ve managed a way to pull that down to a $2,499 price point.
And Macintosh, to accomplish this, uses a 68,000 microprocessor, the same 32-bit microprocessor that’s used in Lisa. It’s necessary for Lisa technology, and it eats 8088s for breakfast.
Johnson: Only $2,500. Laura, do people — when they say they want to be the next Steve Jobs — when they look at what he did, when they look at his legacy in the Bay Area, do they really get what that means? What are they missing about what the Bay Area did for him, that maybe it’s not doing for them.
Sydell: I think he was of a moment. I think actually many of the people who were part of the early computer movement were a part of that moment. In particular to Northern California.
This is a guy who went to venture capitalists meetings, threw his feet up on the table, was kinda smelly, [laughs] and I think there is a lot of conformism now, in a way that there was not. And I think people are much more interested in making a lot of money.
And yes, Steve Jobs made a lot of money, but he was not known to be particularly extravagant. He didn’t own five houses. He didn’t go on extravagant vacations, and you didn’t hear about his private jet. And I don’t think you really see that here, now.
A lot of people have come in from the outside, there has been an influx of money and people from elsewhere, so. It isn’t necessarily quite the same sensibility.
Johnson: There’s also a sensibility that relates to design; that sense of industrial design, that smooth, whether it’s today’s brushed aluminum look, or those, multi-flavored iMacs when he first unveiled them. That’s really Bay Area-specific.
Sydell: It is. I mean, you know, the rainbow flag, which is big here for lesbian and gay rights, but also, there’s a rainbow on the early Macs, right? I think if you look at the colors, the whole thing, it really is very Northern California, the sensibility. You know, I still see people around here wearing tie dye. And I feel like a lot of that early design was infused with that.
This is also an area where we have a lot of industrial deginers. And he really took advantage of that. If anything, it was here and then it, even grew, after Apple came here.
Johnson: Quick question i wanted to ask you about pixar. he could’ve moved that to hollywood, closer to Disney in Burbank, but he kept it in Emeryville. What about that? Very briefly.
Sydell: Once again, I think it was a little bit of rebellion. It was sort of a snub to Disney, in some way, that he set it up here, that he did his own thing here. He also gave the values of that company, I mean I hear it’s a great place to work. It was one of those companies early on that had all the right perks and wonderful and creative. And again, non-conformist.
Johnson: We’ve been speaking with NPR correspondent Laura Sydell. Laura, thank you very much.
Sydell: You’re welcome.
Johnson: I’m Joshua Johnson. You can share your thoughts on the death, and most importantly the life, of Steve Jobs at our blog NewsFix, and check out more of the day’s news online at KQEDnews.org.
Also, from The California Report, Peter Jon Shuler reports on Steve Jobs, The California Dreamer:
Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs is being remembered throughout the world as a technology and design visionary … and leader of one of the most profitable companies in the world. But he was also the quintessential California Dreamer – a Bay Area born counter culture icon who reshaped the whole idea of the Silicon Valley executive. Peter Jon Shuler reports.
Many of the details of the story are well known. Steve Jobs, the young entrepreneur who, with his friend Steve Wozniak, started a business in his garage that made them both legends. But he was also a distinct product of the time and place.
“There were a lot of dads on my street who worked at Lockheed and were engineers, so I got mentored by a couple of the dads,” says Bill Fernandez. Fernandez introduced the two Steves. He met Jobs at Cupertino Junior High School. Woz was his neighbor, and about four years their senior. Nevertheless, Fernandez thought the two just might hit it off. He says even as a teenager, Jobs was already showing qualities that would serve him later in life.
“It was clear at least in high school that he had a very good business sense. I remember that he ended with pieces of equipment like a nice stereo or nice open reel tape deck that there’s no way I could have afforded or gotten and I’d say how did you get this? And he’d say I bought this at a garage sale for five bucks and fixed the headphone jack and now it works perfectly. Or I did some haggling and I ended up with this great tape deck.”
Then there was also Steve Jobs, the college dropout …who experimented with psychedelic drugs, a variety of Eastern religions and dietary regimens …and who backpacked through India in search of spiritual enlightenment. College pal Daniel Kottke was a fellow seeker during many of those experiences. He says they first bonded over their mutual interest in eastern thought.
“Be Here Now,” “Autobiography of a Yogi,” “Ramakrishna and His Disciples,” “Cosmic Consciousness” by Bucke, says Kottke. “I think Steve turned me onto that one. So that was kind of our reading program for that first year.”
Kottke, who is generally known as Apple Employee Number 12, may actually have been Apple’s first full-time employee.
“When I first showed up at the Jobs house, his sister Patti was plugging chips into the Apple I board on the coffee table in the living room while she watched TV. And I thought, ‘I could do better than that.’ So I just kind of jumped in.”
Nobody had any idea it would all be so successful, so fast, Kottke says.
After the company’s initial success of the Apple II and the Macintosh, Jobs was pushed out in a power struggle with Apple’s board. A decade later, when the company was near the brink of collapse, Jobs returned and led Apple to greater success, first reviving Macintosh sales with the iMac and creating new markets for music players, smart phones and tablets with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
He also revolutionized animated films as chief executive of Pixar. Kottke credits the unique combination of qualities Jobs brought to everything he did.
“Hard work’s not enough, technical competency is not enough, charisma is pretty essential and a lot of technical people don’t quite have that,” says Kottke. “And then the product visionary. I mean that’s a hard thing to find, in someone who has all the other qualities.”
As a local boy who made good, Steve Jobs put Cupertino on the map. So says Mayor Gilbert Wong. Wong says Steve Jobs left a significant legacy for his hometown – one that is distinct to Silicon Valley and California. A legacy of reaching beyond conventional thinking to create something truly innovative and new. Wong says he hopes Cupertino will be able to continue to grow along with Apple in the years to come.
“We’re going to be looking beyond Mr. Jobs and I think that he has put a vision here in Cupertino even after he leaves us.”