Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be

Imagine – A Memory of Steve Jobs

1978. I am sixteen years old. I sit before a device developed by two men not much older than myself. I sit before one of the first personal computers in the world, my Rev 0 Apple II. One of the first 150 in production. The manual is a xeroxed copy of designer Steve Wozniak’s code and a bit of Jobs explanation of how to use it in a dime store report holder with a clear plastic cover and a copy of their printed brochure with a picture of an Apple on it and the slogan:

“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.”

It was.  There were no computer monitors in 1978.  A cable  to the TV with a switch between the antenna and the computer hooked it up.

There were no hard drives. No USB. No floppy drives even. The computer came with a few cassette tapes with the programs on them.  It took up to three minutes to load them in, if it worked on the first try.

The Apple II case that resembled a typewriter, with some slots for add-on devices that hadn’t been dreamed up yet.  It came with a joystick for playing a variation of “PONG” that had an integrated circuit chip at the end of the cable. You had to carfully plug in the pins to keep it from getting bent.

It all ran in 16K.  Not 16 megabytes. Not 16 gigabytes. 16K. About what it takes to power up the corner of an icon on your iPhone.

The personal computer revolution was born. It revolutionized the lives of people like me.  In a few years, the first floppy disk drives and more memory expanded the computer’s capacity. Printers, noisy dot-matrix affairs, were adapted to put words and crude images to paper.  I remember the first word processor, and the creative paralysis that being able to change anything at will in my document caused me.

Apple was more than a neat techno toy.  It was a movement to unleash the creative potential of humanity.  Ridley Scott’s famous 1984 ad was fundamentally correct. Steve Jobs was on a mission not to re-engineer a device or two, but to re-engineer human-kind to learn, see, and do more than people could in ten lifetimes in years before the arrival of Apple.

After several years of working in Hollywood and not finding much happiness, in the 1990s I crossed over to the brave new world of Multimedia, whatever that was. I worked with Apple, evangelized and sold Apple product for nearly a decade, putting thousands of people in front of one for the first time.  I was, and am, a believer.  We were on a mission to change the world for the better.

It is late 1996. Steve Jobs is back at Apple. I’m sitting in a room full of sales people, evangelists, consultants and more.  It has been a rough few years. Even though Apple had $5B in cash in the bank, Microsoft had engineered a brilliant rumor that Apple was going out of business, and that, if you didn’t standardize your business on Windows, your company’s future was going down the tubes with Apple.

Apple stock plummeted to $5 and $6 a share. CNBC pronounced the company dead.  The Wall Street Journal dropped in the dreaded “beleaguered” any time Apple was mentioned. Both inside and outside sales and consultants were beating their heads against the wall, selling the lightbulb that does not burn out to people in the IT world who got paid great money to change lightbulbs for a living.  Corporate sales were slipping. Retail was falling apart because stores like CompUSA didn’t want to have to train minimum wage employees selling $6000 systems in two operating systems.

So Jobs was back.  He was standing in front of the big meeting hall at 1 Infinite Loop, Apple’s corporate headquarters, pacing back and forth in a pair of khakis and an all-too-casual shirt.

“3% of the American public is super smart,” he began. “They natively get anything.  You guys are at 6% market share right now.  The way you’ve been marketing, that’s 3% farther than you should be.”

He wasn’t scolding. He was observing. Processing. Creating something new right there. We were all waiting for the big vision. That next product that was going to put Apple back on the map.

“I’ve been working all night on something,” he said. “I want to show it to you.”

We all expected to see a product prototype on the screen. What emerged took some people back. It was a  giant closeup of John Lennon, projected on the screen behind him.

I just got off the phone with the Lennon Estate. Yoko Ono  has agreed to allow us to use John Lennon’s likeness.”

Then, over in the upper right hand corner, the words were projected: “Think Different.”

“We’re done with the business world as a focus. We need to get back to the consumer.  Before we can sell them something, though, we have to have them “get it.”

He laid out the plan for a brilliant marketing campaign that would use the images of some of the greatest human beings that the world has ever known. People who inspired, who invented, who changed the world, or our world view.  From Gandhi to Kermit the Frog.  Think Different.

A bus in Montgomery skinned with a a photo of Rosa Parks. Think Different.

A six story photo of Alfred Hitchcock on a Hollywood Hotel, peering around the corner. Think Different.

Muhammed Ali, reaching down with his glove from a billboard, daring anyone on the street not to Think Different.

That was Steve Jobs ultimate gift.  He has made some tremendous products. Stylish. Elegant. Easy. Powerful.

What he also has done, though, is make the world think different.  Allow us to express, create, listen, think, and communicate faster, easier and better.

The “i” in everything was not for Internet.  It was innovation.  Trillions of dollars and hundreds of products later, Jobs’ catch phrase for a “personal” computer is as true now as the day that Apple’s societal revolution began.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Here’s to the crazy ones. You really did change the world, Steve.

Rest in peace.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian and short filmmaker who blogs for Truth2Power, the Huffington Post, and the Daily KOS, among others.

7 comments on “Imagine – A Memory of Steve Jobs

  1. joel shlian
    October 6, 2011

    Excellent piece. Have at least 10 Apple products around the house & couldn’t live
    without them. i can remember each new product as a true milestone.

  2. thedrpete
    October 6, 2011

    And the rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer. The rich get that way on the backs of the poor. Steve Jobs was a one-percenter, actually a one-hundredth-of-one-percenter, no actually a one-thousandth-of-one-percenter, and died with net worth of about $7 billion, even in this collapsing economy.

    Steve Jobs is exactly what the “Occupy ___” folks are protesting. Meanwhile, they communicate with their iPhones and iPads.

    Thank you, Mr. Ross, for your memories of a true inspiration.

    • Brian Ross
      October 6, 2011

      Jobs was rich, to be sure. He did it selling goods that people wanted at a fair enough price. That would be the capitalism thing. On the other hand, pretty much every protestor there probably has some Apple product, an iPhone, an iPod, etc. or some device that would not exist today had Jobs not socially re-engineered technology. Another spitball from the Dr. is a swing and a miss.

      • thedrpete
        October 6, 2011

        A “fair price”, Mr. Ross, is whatever an adult-human-being buyer and an adult-human-being seller, each with liberty and free-will agree upon. Having achieved net worth of some $7 billion is ample testament that Jobs and bucketloads of buyers agreed on the value of what he produced.

        Likewise, arguably the most-successful “welfare” program in the history of humankind was visioned, implemented and produced by Sam Walton and his family. Many millions of Chinese doubled and tripled their incomes almost overnight while many millions of Americans virtually overnight became able to afford more and better food, clothing, furniture and appliances.

        Like Jobs, Walton was a paradigm changer. A tip of the hat from me for both of them and many more. Today, however, the focus is rightfully Steve Jobs.

      • Brian Ross
        October 7, 2011

        Yes, Walton was a paradigm changer. Kind of like rat poison. In order for his model to succeed, it has to off-shore jobs to cheaper labor. The problem when you close furniture factories and canning factories and build items in China where the government unfairly manipulates the currency to give their labor a 35%-40% discount, eventually those people who go to Wally World for goods won’t have the jobs to pay for the goods. By then, though, WalMart will be busy exploiting other markets as the USA sinks into oblivion. Walmart prospers. America starves. Win-win, by Righty standards. But that’s okay. Y’all still have your weapons. Until we exhaust the supply of animals to hunt, y’all will be well armed and well fed.

  3. Deborah Shlian
    October 6, 2011

    Great tribute.

  4. thedrpete
    October 7, 2011

    I still enjoyed the tribute to Steve Jobs. And I have been enamored of Steve Jobs for years. A fantastic-model capitalist-entrepreneur.

    I would note that Foxconn Technology Group — manufacturer of all iPods and iPads, including their circuit boards — is located in Taiwan, and competes for workers with . . . .um, oh, what’s the name . . . oh, yea, Walmart.

    Did that make Steve Jobs a bad person? Did his idea of a “fair price” (Mr. Ross’ term) be such as to yield the highest profit margin in the industry from the getgo make him a bad person? Certainly not in my book. Gutsy and confident.

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2011 by in 2011, Arts, Internet, Living, Technology, Years and tagged , .

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