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”

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Two

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

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2. “The World Before”
by Mike Daisey 

My only hobby is technology.

I love technology, I love everything about it. I love looking at technology, I love comparing one piece of technology with another, I love reading rumors about technology that doesn’t exist yet, I love browsing technology, I love buying technology, I love opening technology—even when it’s in that bubble packaging—I love it. I love the smell of a new piece of technology—that sort of burnt PVC smell when you run electricity through it the first time?— I love that.

And of all the kinds of technology that I love in the world, I love the technology that comes from Apple the most.

Because I am an Apple aficionado, I am an Apple partisan, I am an Apple fanboy, I am a worshipper in the cult of Mac. I have been to the House of Jobs, I have walked through the stations of his cross, I have knelt before his throne.

And like so many of you who may be members of this religion with me, you may know that it can be difficult, at times, to keep the faith. And I have strayed now and again. Like many of you, I indulged in the Linux heresies. And in the late nineties, I did sleep with a Windows system or two…but who didn’t, really?

But for the most part, I have been faithful. And we speak tonight of the operating system as a religion and I submit to you, how could it be otherwise? Because in this age, when so much of our lives are mediated by technology, I say to you, if you control the metaphor through which people see the world, then you control the world itself.

What I’m saying is, if you have never thought, in a deep way, about your choice of operating systems…you may be living an unexamined life.

And if my time with Apple has taught me anything, it has taught me that to be in love with Apple is a little bit to be in love with heartbreak itself. Because they break your heart, again and again…because Steve Jobs was the master of the forced upgrade.

Just when you think everything is finally working out, just when you think all of your systems are in alignment—not only in their capabilities but also aesthetically—just when you think everything you own can actually speak to one another—he fucks you.

I remember, there was one week in 1999, I looked at all of my systems and I thought,

“Oh! It’s perfect! Everything I own is bulbous and fruit-colored. This will never go out of style!”

But it did. It did!

And Steve Jobs was so good at telling us the story we long to hear, the story of a future where technology actually works.

I’ve never been to that place. I really want to go.

And when the devices rise up on their glass pillars—as though they were born from the mind of Jobs himself! Like one day he’s walking down the street and he’s like, “An iPad!” and MWRRRAAAAP, there it is! —they’re so beautiful!

He was so good at making us need things we never even knew we wanted.

Like I never knew that I needed a laptop so thin I could slice a sandwich with it. I didn’t know that. But then I saw it. And I wanted it.

<<mimes slicing a sandwich>>

And there are some of you out there in the darkness right now, watching me, thinking, “Mike . . . use a knife.”

But I say to you, in a better designed world, I would need only one tool: the tool that Steve has given me.

<<mimes slicing a sandwich again>>

And when I watch the keynotes, I am filled with a curious combination of lust and geekery. I stare into the screen and I have one window open with the livestream running, showing the devices being introduced, and I have multiple other windows open with chat rooms filled with other people—also in their underwear—in apartments all over the world, typing furiously. And when it is over, I rise up, transformed, and I go to the other room of our apartment, where my wife is—who is, I should note, a more normal person—and I try to explain to her what I have seen…and it is like I am speaking in Egyptian:

<<in the voice of the devouring consumer>>

“I want a new router. I want a new router! Because our current router—ha-ha!—our current router is 802.11.g . G! Pathetic G! It’s sooooo sloooowwww. I can’t believe how slowwwwww it is. I didn’t even know it was slow until minutes ago but now that I do know…I can’t even LOOK at the fucking thing! I just want to rip it out of our systems and smash it against the edge of the toilet and flush it away. The new router—ahhhh! —the new router is 802.11.n. N! N is fast. With N, everything is finally going to work the way they always said it would. With N, we’ll finally be able to stream high definition video wirelessly across our apartment from our RAID arrray server!”

And there is a rational voice in the back of my mind saying,

“Michael. You do not own a RAID array server. And you do not stream any high definition video. In fact, the only thing you use your router for is downloading webpages from the internet.”

And I speak to that voice, and I tell that voice to SHUT UP.

Because I want it! Because it is small, and white, and square…and has perfect Bauhaus- inspired design.

And before we go too much further here tonight, I think we should speak, for a moment, about the nature of geekishness.

Because geeks are a little bit like lowland gorillas: they fight for dominance. And out there in the darkness I feel certain that there is someone who believes that they are geekier than me. They’re sitting out there in the darkness, even now, watching me, thinking…

<<in a shrill nasal manner>>

“I don’t think he knows anything about Steve Jobs. I have a tattoo of Steve Jobs’ face on the back of my skull. When I have a USB thumb drive that doesn’t work the way I want it to, I like to write my own drivers for it in machine code.”

You win.

You are geekier than me.

You, out there in the darkness.

If…you made it out of your apartment this evening.

But I do think it’s important to understand where I sit in that hierarchy for the purposes of our story, and so the best way I know to describe it is to say that I am at the level of geekishness where, to relax, after performances like this one, sometimes, I will go back to my apartment and I will field strip my MacBook Pro into its 43 component pieces. I will clean them with compressed air and I will put them back together again.

It soothes me.

So the truth is, I never would have questioned this religion, I never would have looked deeply at this belief system—because it gave me so much pleasure—if it hadn’t been for the pictures.

Because one day, I was relaxing on the internet—which for me means reading Macintosh news sites, which, I should specify, have no actual news in them. They’re instead filled with rumors about what Apple will do next, written exclusively by people who have no fucking idea what Apple will do next, but, for some reason, I find this soothing.

So, I’m reading one of these news sites when this article gets posted. And it’s about the fact that someone bought an iPhone and when they got it, it wasn’t blank—it had information on it from inside the factory. And in fact, in the camera roll, there were pictures on it. From inside the factory. They posted these pictures into the article, and I looked at these pictures, and they took my breath away.

They’re not very good pictures, you know—they’re just testing that the camera on the phone works, they’re not of anything, but I’ll never forget them. There were four of them.

First was of a stack of pallets, wooden pallets, stacked up; and the second was the edge of a conveyor belt; the third was totally out of focus—it could just be an enormous space—and the fourth was a woman. She doesn’t know her picture’s being taken. She’s looking off in another direction, she’s wearing a clean suit, she has no expression on her face.

And I looked at these pictures, and I downloaded these pictures to my desktop, and I put them in a folder on my desktop, and in the weeks and months that followed I found myself returning to them again and again, almost compulsively. I would mouse over, and I would open that folder, and then I would use Exposé and I would fan the pictures across my desktop and I would look at them.

Who are these people?

Because you have to understand, I have dedicated an embarrassing amount of my life to the study of these machines. I’m an amateur, but I am a dedicated amateur. I understand as best I can how the hardware works and how the software rests on the hardware, and in all that time, until I saw those pictures, it was only then that I realized I had never thought, ever, in a dedicated way, about how they were made.

It’s actually hard now to reconstruct what I did think. I think what I thought is they were made by robots.

I had an image in my mind that I now realize I just stole from a 60 Minutes story about Japanese automotive plants. I just copy-and-pasted that and I was like, PWOP, Command-V…it looks like that.

But smaller.

Because they’re laptops. Instead of cars.

I started to think how if this phone has four pictures on it, taken by hand in testing, then every iPhone has four pictures on it, taken in testing, every iPhone in the world. By hand. I started to think. And that’s always a problem, for any religion.

The moment when you begin to think.

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Tomorrow: “Part Three: Fruit of Early Pirates”

Technology and Design: Copy-Cats and Inventors

Sorry for our brief hiatus, but our schedules have been a little crazy of late. We have heard your feedback loud and clear! We are replacing the daily “What to Read” series with weekly top-10 “Best of the Week” posts, and we will strive to post original analysis daily, beginning with this brilliant post from Jessica Butler! — AWO

I have to preface this post by saying that I am an avid Apple fan, I have a Mac laptop and an iPod Touch (and I wish I had an iPhone), and I plan to never buy a PC-related item of technology again, unless under very special circumstances. That said, I think one very interesting topic of conversation these days is the differences between Apple and PC products and how they are designed. Of course this discussion will be through my own bias.   Continue reading “Technology and Design: Copy-Cats and Inventors”