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 Five

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

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5. “Change the World”
by Mike Daisey

Xerox PARC is a think tank, and as a think tank, it’s a place where ideas go to die. Because for an idea to thrive, it needs to be transmitted from person to person—you keep ideas locked up, it’s like fish in a fish tank—they don’t fucking like it.

And at Xerox PARC, they had some amazing ideas, they just didn’t know what the fuck to do with them. They’d be like, “Oh my god, that’s amazing, this thing you’ve made! You know what you should do with this? You should take this thing and you should put it IN THAT CLOSET OVER THERE.”

And before long, they filled up all their closets and they still didn’t know what the fuck to do. So they started having open houses and they would invite everyone in Silicon Valley and be like,

“Hey, open house at our place this weekend! We got some crazy shit up in here! Also…there will be Doritos!”

And people came, and people from Apple came, and they saw something in one of those closets that blew their minds, and they went back to Steve Jobs and they said, “Steve, Steve. You gotta go to Xerox PARC, you gotta see this thing we saw,” and Steve Jobs said, “No.”

Because one of the ways Steve Jobs organized the universe is he divided everyone in the universe into Geniuses and Bozos—and there are only a few Geniuses and there’s a FUCKLOAD of Bozos. And everyone who’s making this suggestion was, currently, a Bozo.

So it takes a while until someone who is currently a Genius says, “Seriously, Steve. You really need to go to Xerox PARC, you really need to see this thing.” At which point Steve Jobs says,

“I’ve had an idea.

I think we should go to Xerox PARC.

I think something may be happening there.”

And what they saw in that room will not seem amazing to you because you live in the world that came after. But I would ask you tonight to try—try to see it the way they saw it, try to see it with fresh eyes.

They walk into a room, there’s a computer there, it looks normal, it’s off. There is one new thing: there’s this box there with a cord coming out of it? They call it a mouse.

That’s not the crazy part.

The crazy part is when they turn that computer on—because before this moment, the dominant metaphor in computing was that a computer was, fundamentally, an electronic typewriter.

People didn’t think about that very often because sometimes it’s hard to see the metaphor you’re embedded in from inside of it, but fundamentally, every computer was a typewriter that happened to be electronic. Until now.

They turn on this computer and…ahhhh,

It’s not a fucking typewriter.

Instead, on the screen, there are windows…and a cursor

And it is an amazing thing, to be there at the moment when the metaphor shifts. Those of you out there in the darkness who love technology the way that I do, you know what I’m talking about: that moment when you can feel the ground going out beneath your feet, when you know you will never see things the same way again.

And Steve Jobs leaves that room a changed man, and he goes back to Apple and he starts putting together a team, Ocean’s Eleven-style.

He starts stealing people from all these different groups, all the freaks and weirdos and misfits, all the very best people from all these different groups—he steals them and he puts all the weirdos together in a secret base. He rents this building away from the rest of Apple’s campus—no one knows what the fuck is going on in there—he puts the weirdos in the secret base and then he decides secrecy is overrated and he puts a pirate flag ON TOP of the secret base, as if to say,

<<in the manner of a serious pirate>>

“ARRRRRRRRRR!, fuck all y’all, ARRRRRRRRR!”

And he tells them, “Your job is to destroy Apple. Your job is to destroy the Apple that exists today.”

And he is serious.

Because Steve Jobs was always the enemy of nostalgia. He understood that the future requires sacrifice. Steve Jobs was never afraid to knife the baby.

I’ll give you an example. A couple years ago, Apple’s best-selling product—best-selling!—was the iPod Mini. It was awesome—it was an iPod, but it was mini! Everybody loved the iPod Mini.

And one day, Steve Jobs is making one of his fabulous keynotes and he’s saying,

“Today…the iPod Mini…is…no more.”

And it was like, <<in the pleading manner of a bereft, Gollum-esque consumer>> “NOOOO! Don’t hurts us, Steve! Don’t takes it away, we’ll be good…”

<<back as Steve again>> “Instead…we give you…the iPod Nano.” <<Gollum doesn’t know what to think, looks back and forth between the Mini and the Nano, then suddenly bursts into crazy-delighted applause>> “YAYYYY! Nano is smaller than Mini! YAYYYY! It’s exactly what I wanted! I’m going to lose it even faster now!”

Everyone’s delighted, and Steve flies away in his black helicopter, and the tech press is jizzing on themselves…it’s a magical day.

And later, people are talking to the Apple reps, and they’re saying, “My god, the iPod Nano is smaller, and it’s thinner, and it holds even more songs than the iPod Mini!” And the Apple people say, “Errrrrr—actually…it doesn’t hold more songs.”

And they say, “Oh. Well, you know, it’s smaller, and it’s thinner, and it holds just as many songs as the iPod Mini!”

And the Apple reps say, “Errrrr…actually…it’s a lot less.”

And people said, “Oh. Well that sucks.

…hey, can I still get an iPod Mini?”

NO! They’ve been pulled from the stores that very day, you cannot have one for love or money—you will have an iPod Nano, and you will fucking like it!

Now, I ask you: Can you think of any other company, in the world, that behaves anything like this?

That would take their best-selling product, pull it from the stores overnight, replacing it with a new product that is more technically advanced but does half as much…and when people complain about this, they are told, vigorously, to fuck themselves.

I’m saying it’s kind of radical.

And so Steve Jobs is serious when he’s telling them he wants them to destroy Apple—the Apple of that time is built on the Apple II platform, their entire empire is built on that, and he’s saying,

“No, don’t be compatible with that, fuck that shit! Shove it off the table!, MAKE something NEW.”

And these are the people that create the Macintosh.

And in 1984, the Mac is born. It goes on to be the dominant computer of its generation. Never in market share—the Mac never dominates in market share—instead, the Mac dominates in mind share.

Over time, every computer that is not a Mac evolves until it looks and thinks and works like a Mac. It’s a mind virus that spreads absolutely everywhere.

My favorite Mac was the Macintosh SE/30. I never owned one, but they had one at the security office where I did work-study in college and I would sign up for overnight shifts so I could spend more time with the SE/30.

It was a wonderful machine. It had the form factor of the original Macintosh, so if you were seated at it, if you squinted, it looked like a little anthropomorphic human face staring back at you. And I would type into its tiny gray-scale screen…it was the first computer I used regularly that had real networking and I would telnet out from it to repositories of information around the world; I would post to bulletin boards and people in other cities—other countries!— would post back, and we would talk about the future…and how in the future, this “web” that was just starting now, it would grow and grow until one day…it would touch everyone, everywhere and when that happened…information would be free. And people everywhere would be free.

We were very young.

But we could have been right.

<<pause>>

And Steve Jobs was many things, but he was two things above all others, inextractably welded together: He was a

<<left hand>> visionary

<<right hand>> asshole.

And you cannot have one without the other: the two things speak to one another. He was an impossible manager. I would not wish on my worst enemy to be personally managed by Steve Jobs. He was not a micro-manager, he was a nano-manager—he would climb into the bodies of his subordinates and try to move them around with his mind.

The head of the Macintosh project, when asked for public comment on Steve Jobs’ management style, the only thing he would ever say publicly was this:

“He would make a most excellent King of France.”

But you have to admit it’s working for him. It is! The only people who are just a little tired of this bullshit is Apple’s board of directors; they’re just a little tired of it. They’re like, “Oh my god. I KNOW he’s a fucking genius, I just wish sometimes at meetings that he would stop cursing at us, and I just wish sometimes at those meetings that he would wear shoes.”

And so they came up with an idea, they thought, You know, what if we had someone next to Steve, you know, someone who’s a little older, someone who doesn’t freak the investors out so much, somebody who looks good in a suit…somebody who wears shoes.

And so they convince Steve to do this, and so Steve and the board go out looking for someone, and who they find is Scully.

And Scully was at Pepsi, and Scully didn’t know fuck-all about computers, but he did look great in a suit.

And so Jobs goes to Scully and says, “Come. Join me at Apple.”

And Scully says,

<<in the manner of a recalcitrant Scully>>

“Errrr, I don’t know…I don’t know about the clicky-clicky-clicky, I don’t know…”

And Jobs says, “What? Do you want to sell fucking sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to CHANGE THE WORLD?!” and he looks at him with Steve Jobs’ Laser Death Vision—DA-DA-DDD-DA! DA-DA-DDD-DA! And Scully goes, “ACK! Change-the-world, change-the-WORLD—!” and he goes and he joins Jobs at Apple.

And everything is great.

For a while.

And you’ll find this a lot, in Steve Jobs stories. Things are always great!…for a while.

And then Scully makes the inevitable slide…from Genius to Bozo.

And Jobs realizes he needs to throw him out of the company, and Jobs stages a coup d’etat.

And the thing about staging a coup d’etat is that you really want to win.

Because if you don’t win, it is so…awkward. At the office the next day.

And the board backs Scully, and in short order, Jobs is thrown out of his own company. He’s a laughingstock in Silicon Valley—the metaphor had shifted right out from underneath him.

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Tomorrow: “Part Six: Where All Our Shit Is Made”