The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Seven

This is Part Seven of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” by Mike Daisey, the 2011 Trading 8s “Journalist of the Year”.

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7. “The Second Coming”
by Mike Daisey

At this point, people at Apple are excited about Scully. They feel like maybe it’s time for Apple to be a grown-up company.

What they don’t understand is that while Steve Jobs is kind of a megalomaniacal asshole and a little bit of a brutal tyrant, he’s also the glue that’s been holding the company together— and as soon as he leaves, it’s only then that people realize that Apple is filled with mad geniuses.

Thousands and thousands of mad geniuses! And as soon as Steve Jobs is out the door, they’re all going,

“MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Finally! My plan will come to fruition! I will finally mate a monkey and a pony! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

And Scully? What’s Scully doing? Scully’s walking up and down the halls going,

<<in an excessively low-key Scully voice>>

“Hey…does anybody want to ship anything? Okay, well…let me know if you want to ship anything. I’ll be in my office, drinking a Pepsi.”

And all the rigor goes out of the place and things start getting real weird, real fast. And pet projects that should stay small start getting bigger and bigger and bigger because there’s no one there to knife the baby. Like the time that Apple tried to create its own version of the internet…yeah, that didn’t go very well.

Or, most famously, the Newton.

And the Newton is a tale of heartbreak for the ages because the Newton was a fantastic machine. The Newton was a personal electronic organizer—and when you tell people that they say, “Oh, like the Palm Pilot?”

Noooooo. Fuck the Palm Pilot—the Palm Pilot was made of Legos and bullshit.

The Newton was amazing. The Newton could understand your fucking handwriting; you’d just write whatever you wanted, it’d automatically put it in the address book, in the calendar…

It was the future! In your hand!

Except…it didn’t work.

And they tried, oh my GOD, they tried, and they delayed it and delayed it and they finally ship it, and all the Apple faithful run out and buy it and they’re like, “My precious!,” and they take it home, “Honey, honey, come see this! I’ve got the future, in my hand! Watch this: <<mimes writing onto the Newton>> Doctor’s appointment at 2pm tomorrow.”

And the Newton says…

HEMORRHOID FISHSTICK.

<<studying the Newton with great consternation and a palpable sense of loss>>

“That isn’t what I wrote…

…it’s embarrassing…

…I don’t know why the future isn’t working… Maybe it’s me.”

Because in this, Apple users are a little bit like battered wives.

They blame themselves: “I can change! I can change my handwriting so that the Newton likes it! I know that we can have a relationship, I have to make it work!”

<<now writing the same script, but grotesquely exaggerated >>

DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENT AT 2 PM TOMORROW!

And the Newton says…

LUSCIOUS ASSMUNCH.

This is the era of the PowerBook 5300—the flaming PowerBook. I don’t mean that your laptop gets warm or it gets hot—I mean actual fucking fire comes out of the keyboard! Your laptop bursts into flames! They recall them all, they replace the batteries…now, they do not burst into flames, but they only get seventeen minutes of battery life.

This is the era when on Apple’s early internet website, they have an actual, approved troubleshooting tech note telling users to take the affected machine, hold it six inches over the surface of the table…and drop it.

Doesn’t. Inspire. Confidence.

At this point, Apple is fucked. No tech company has ever come back from a deficit like this. WIRED magazine actually does an entire issue called “The Death of Apple” and it’s filled with obituaries written by prominent tech pundits mourning the fact that Apple is gone. And Apple is in the humiliating position of having to issue a press release in response saying,

“Ha-ha-ha, actually, it’s ok, everything is really ok, ha-ha-ha.”

It’s like a Viking funeral where the Viking is saying,

“Oh! Actually, I’m okay! I think I’m okay!”

And everyone else says, “No, you’re not,” and they push the barge out onto the lake and they set it on fire.

And at this point, the unlikeliest savior appears:

Apple asks Steve Jobs to come back.

And if you’re like me…

…don’t you wish we could’ve heard that phone call?

<<in the manner of Bob Newhart’s famous one-sided phone calls>>

“Hey, Steve! Long time no see!…Yeah, it’s been about twelve years <<listening>> since we threw you out the company, that’s right, that’s right. But you’ve been busy! Yes, we’ve been busy, too <<listening>> running the company into the ground, that’s right, that’s right.

Listen, Steve. The board has asked me to call you to ascertain if you’d be interested in the possibility of…

<<puts hand over receiver and gesticulates wildly to other board members, miming a silent argument with them, begging them to talk to this asshole in the crassest terms. After a standoff, returning to the phone>>

—the board has asked me to call you to ascertain if you would be interested in the possibility of—

<<as before, but even more animatedly, with weeping and agitas, until being dragged back to the phone to say through gritted teeth>>

—WILLYOUPLEASECOMEBACKANDSAVETHECOMPANY?”

<<hangs up>>

Because each side has exactly what the other side needs.

Apple…needs Jesus Fucking Christ.

But He is not available…

…so Steve Jobs will have to do.

They also need a working next-generation operating system, because while they were busy pissing away hundreds of millions of dollars trying to mate a manatee and a walrus, they forgot to make a working next-generation operating system.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs in his years in exile has actually created his own computer company in his own image: NeXT Computers.

And NeXT Computers sort of embodies everything that is both fabulous and frustrating about Steve Jobs. It’s sort of like a narcissism supernova of Jobsian id.

On the fabulous side, the operating system is amazing: it’s the world’s first object-oriented operating system. It’s literally ten years ahead of its time. The thing about things that are ten years ahead of their time? Is that they are ten years ahead of their time.

So they’re not compatible with fuck-all that you are using today.

On the frustrating side, this is Steven P. Jobs, a man who does not know the meaning of the word “compromise.”

His idea of a reasonable computer to break into the crowded computer market of the late 80s is the NeXT Cube.

Which is a solid black cube of milled magnesium.

It is a TRIUMPH of industrial design.

It is compatible with NONE of your peripherals!

It can run NONE of your software!

And it costs FOURTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!

It doesn’t do very well. It really doesn’t do very well, and at this point, NeXT has no assets to speak of except for a kick-ass next-generation operating system. And so Apple acquires NeXT—but in reality, it feels a little bit more like tiny little NeXT somehow swallows up Apple.

Steve Jobs comes back and in one of his first orders of business, he makes some subtle changes to the board of directors so that this shit will never happen again. Then he installs his lieutenants to take control, and he interviews everyone at Apple, looking for diamonds in the rough—this is how he finds Jonathan Ive, a junior industrial designer. He promotes him up and a new order begins to take hold.

The Mac OS with its smiling Mac face and its friendly error messages…they take it out behind the barn and they shoot it in the back of the head, and they throw its body in a ditch.

And they take the NeXT operating system, which, as I told you, was ten years ahead of its time, well…it’s ten years later. So it’s right on schedule.

They transplant it into the heart of the Mac and it becomes Mac OS X—it becomes the system that runs all of Apple’s devices today.

And a new Apple begins to rise. An Apple that’s more design-driven, more focused, more ruthless, more elegant, more…secretive. The old Apple was practically an open shop, you could just ask people what was going on and they would tell you. Now, the gates are closed, the doors are shut, no one knows what the fuck is going on in there in Cupertino. It’s like Willy Wonka after Slugworth.

And then devices start coming out that the old Apple never would have thought of— lifestyle devices, like little boxes that play all your music, and they’re compatible with Macs and PCs, and they spread out like a halo around the world, changing people’s ideas about what Apple is as a company.

And then, when Jobs showed us the iPhone…those of us who follow technology could feel here was the metaphor, shifting again. Here was the new new thing. Gone is the cursor, gone is the windowing interface—it’s so simple, even a child could use it. But the changes go much deeper than that. Every device that runs that touch interface is locked down. You will never touch that operating system, that belongs to Apple and Apple alone. You will never install your own programs on those machines, instead you will download them from Apple’s servers, and Apple will choose what is available and take a healthy cut of each and every proceeding. Unless you jailbreak those devices, you will never truly own them.

And a walled garden begins to rise up around all the Apple users who frolic and play…and a new deal is struck between Apple and its users and the terms of the new deal are:

<<In the voice of Apple—Zeus meets Charlton Heston>>

WE ARE APPLE. Have we not always given you the very finest devices? Have we not given you the best user experience?

We did that because we have exquisite taste.

We have exquisite taste.

And you…do not.

We are going to protect you from your taste.

We are going to lock this shit down once and for all. And let’s be clear—you’re going love what’s coming next, but this is the end of the garage, this is the end of hacking your own shit, this is the end of Wozniak—this is the rise of the consumer.

And that will be your role. You will consume.

You will drink from Apple’s servers—it will be a new virtuous circle between each of you and the corporate entity that is Apple, you will be tied together, and with each app you download you will be bound even more tightly.

But you will not mind…because you will never leave. Why would you leave? They’re the very best devices in the world, are they not?

You will use them, and you will love them.

You will love them, and they will own you.

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Tomorrow: “Part Eight: The Secret Union”