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”

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Four

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

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4. “The Gates of Foxconn”
by Mike Daisey

Shenzhen is a city without history.

The people who live there will tell you that, because thirty-one years ago, Shenzhen was a fishing village. They had little reed huts, little reed walkways between the huts, the men would fish into the late afternoon—I hear it was lovely. Today, Shenzhen is a city of fourteen million people. It is larger than New York City, it is the third largest city in all of China, and it is the place where almost all of your shit comes from.

And the most amazing thing is, almost no one in America knows its name.

Isn’t that remarkable?

That there’s a place where almost all of our shit comes from and no one knows its fucking name?

I mean, we think we do know where our shit comes from—we think our shit comes from China.

Right? In kind of a generalized way? “China.”

But it doesn’t come from “China”—it comes from Shenzhen. It’s a city, it’s a place, and I am there, in an elevator, going down to the lobby of my hotel to meet with my translator, Cathy.

Cathy is fascinating: she’s very small, and she has sort of rounded shoulders, and she has these glasses that are way too big for her face so they keep sliding down and she has to push them up assiduously. She also has this sort of unnerving habit that when she is listening to you, she leans forward…indeterminately. So you get the feeling that if you were to talk to her for long enough, she would actually fall into your chest, and you’d have to pick her back up again.

We go outside and get into a taxi and begin to drive through the streets of downtown Shenzhen.

Shenzhen looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself. LEDs, neon, and fifteen-story-high video walls covered in shitty Chinese advertising: it’s everything they promised us the future would be.

We get out to the edge of the core of Shenzhen and we come to the gates. Because thirty- one years ago, when Deng Xiaoping carved this area off from the rest of China with a big red pen, he said, “This will be the Special Economic Zone,” and he made a deal with the corporations, he said, “Listen, use our people, do whatever you want to our people, just give us a modern China.” And the corporations took that deal and they squeezed and they squeezed and what they got is the Shenzhen we find today.

And on the other side of the gates it’s the factory zone and WHOO! —it’s like going from the Eloi to the Morlocks: everything changes. I’ve never seen anything like it. Everything is under construction. Every road has a bypass, every bypass has a bypass—it’s bypasses all the way down. I swear to God, I actually see buildings being built up on one side as they’re being torn down on the other.

And we pull onto an elevated expressway, and we begin to drive under a silver poisoned sky, because the air in Shenzhen…it’s not good in Hong Kong, but when you get to Shenzhen, you can actually feel it. Like a booted foot pressing down on your chest. But it’s amazing, what human beings will get used to, isn’t it?

Because after just a few days

<<takes a deep breath>>

you hardly even notice it at all.

And as we’re driving, we’re passing by arcology after arcology, these immense buildings that are so large they are redefining my sense of scale moment by moment, and then our taxi driver takes an exit ramp, and he stops.

Because the exit ramp stops. In mid-air.

There’s some rebar sticking out…and an eighty-five foot drop to the ground.

The only sign that the exit ramp ends is a single, solitary, orange cone.

It’s sitting there, as if to say,

“We’re busy…? Be alert…?”

We back back onto the expressway and begin to drive again, and then Cathy turns to me, pushes up her glasses, and says, “Excuse me, but I do not think this is going to work.”

And I hasten to assure her that it will work, but I’m talking out of my ass because I don’t know that it’s going to work; in fact, I have a lot of evidence that this is not going to work. In fact, all the journalists I have talked to in Hong Kong, when I tell them about my plan, you can actually see them wrestling with just how to express to me just how totally fucked my plan is.

My plan is this: We are in a taxi right now, in the factory zone, we are driving on our way to Foxconn.

Foxconn is the biggest company you’ve never heard of. Foxconn makes almost fifty percent of all the electronics in the world. So if you’re ever wondering how much of your shit comes from Foxconn, just take all the electronics you have in your house, put them together in a big pile, cut them all in half: that’s Foxconn.

And at this plant, they make all kinds of things, including MacBook Pros and iPhones and iPads, and so my plan is to take this taxi to the main gates, and then I’m going to get out of the taxi with my translator, and then my plan is to stand at the main gates and talk to anybody who wants to talk to me.

And when I tell journalists in Hong Kong about this plan, they say,

“That’s…different. That’s not really how we usually do things in China…ah…that’s really a bad idea—”

But I don’t know what the fuck else to do. I have been trying to do things “the right way,” I can’t get anywhere. I’ve been working with a fixer for the BBC—all the doors are closed.

And you reach a certain point when you realize you may need to obey your natural inclinations.

And at the end of the day, I am large,

I am American,

and I am wearing a fucking Hawaiian shirt.

And we are going to the main gates.

But I have to say, when we get there…my resolve wavers.

Because the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen is enormous. The Foxconn plant in Shenzhen has four-hundred-and-thirty-thousand workers.

That can be a difficult number to conceptualize. I find it’s useful to instead think about how there are twenty-five cafeterias at the plant and you just have to understand that some of these cafeterias seat thousands of people.

So now you just need to visualize a cafeteria that seats thousands and thousands of people.

I’ll wait.

No, really. I’ll wait.

You can do it. Try visualizing a cafeteria from your youth—maybe one from grade school, maybe one you went to hundreds and hundreds of times against your will, that would be appropriate. Summon it up in your mind.

Ok. Now. Hold it in your mind.

What I want you to do now is push the walls outward…start cloning the space like a Photoshop tool, over and over and over until it holds thousands of people.

Now, imagine twenty five rooms, all that size, all next to each other.

And now imagine them always full—because they always are. If you’re late from your shift, even a little bit, you aren’t getting any dinner.

And I get to the main gates, and I get out of the taxi with my translator, and the first thing I see at the gates are the guards.

And the guards look pissed. They look really pissed.

And they are carrying guns.

And I look back at the taxi which is now pulling away…and I’m involuntarily reminded of this Google News alert that popped into my inbox a few weeks earlier about an Reuters photographer who was taking pictures not at the Foxconn plant but near the Foxconn plant and Foxconn security went out, scooped him up, and beat him before releasing him.

I hope they’re in a better mood today.

And I look up past the gates and the guards, I look up at the buildings, these immense buildings, they are so enormous, and along the edges of each enormous building are the nets.

Because right at the time that I am making this visit, there’s been an epidemic of suicides at the Foxconn plant.

Day after day, week after week, worker after worker is climbing all the way up to the tops of these enormous buildings and then throwing themselves off, killing themselves in a brutal and public manner, not thinking very much about just how bad this makes Foxconn look.

Foxconn’s response to month after month of suicides has been to put up these nets.

<<silence>>

I think it’s Foxconn’s version of corporate responsibility.

It’s shift change, and the workers are coming out of the plant, and I’m standing there under the hot monsoon sun in the gaze of the guards. I feel ridiculous. I look absurd in this landscape—I mean, I wouldn’t talk to me!

And Cathy surprises me—she’s a spitfire, who knew?—she runs right over to the very first worker, grabs them by the arm, drags them over to us, we start talking…and in short order, we cannot keep up.

First, there’s one worker waiting, then there’s two, then there’s three, and before long the guards are like,

“mrrrrrrr??? RRRRRR,”

and we move further and further away from the plant, but the line just gets longer and longer—everyone wants to talk! We start taking them three or four at a time—we still can’t keep up. Everyone wants to talk. It’s like they were coming to work every day, thinking,

“You know what’d be great? It’d be so great if somebody who uses all this crap we make, all day long, it’d be so great if one of those people came and asked us what is going on. Because we would have stories for them.”

And I’m just ad-hoc-ing questions, I’m asking the questions you would expect: “What village in China are you from? How long have you been working at Foxconn? What do you do at the plant? How do you find your job? What would you change at Foxconn if you could change anything?”

That last question always gets them. They always react like a bee has flown into their faces and then they say something to Cathy and Cathy says, “He says he never thought of that before.” Every time. Every time.

And the stories are fascinating. I talk to one young woman who works on the iPhone line. She cleans the screens of iPhones by hand, in these huge racks, thousands and thousands of them every day, and she shows me how she does it, and I show her my iPhone and I hand her my iPhone—I take a picture of her holding my iPhone—and I say to her, “We’ll never know, you may have cleaned the screen of this iPhone when it came by you on the line, we’ll never know.” And, quick as a whip, she takes my phone and she rubs it against her pants and then she says, “There, I’ve cleaned it a second time.”

And I say to her, “You seem kind of young—how old are you?”

And she says, “I’m thirteen.”

And I say, “Thirteen. That’s young. Is it hard to get work at Foxconn when you’re…?”

She says, “Oh no,” and her friends all agree, it’s not that hard. There are inspections, but Foxconn always knows when there’s going to be an inspection, so what they do then—you’re going to love this—they don’t even check ages then, they just pull everyone from the affected line and then they put the oldest workers they have on that line.

You’d think someone would notice this, you know? You’d think someone would say, “My god, you guys are amazing! I can’t believe you keep up with our BRUTAL iPhone quotas and your median age is…ahhhh…74! Chinese productivity, am I right? We gotta get some of you guys back home to Cupertino!”

I am telling you that I do not speak Mandarin, I do not speak Cantonese, I have only a passing familiarity with Chinese culture and to call what I have a passing familiarity is an insult to Chinese culture—I don’t know fuck-all about Chinese culture.

But I do know that in my first two hours of my first day at that gate,

I met workers who were fourteen years old,

I met workers who were thirteen years old,

I met workers who were twelve.

Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?

In a company obsessed with the details, with the aluminum being milled just so, with the glass being fitted perfectly into the case, do you really think it’s credible that they don’t know?

Or are they just doing what we’re all doing?

Do they just see what they want to see?

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Tomorrow: “Part Five: Change the World”

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Three

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

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3. “Fruit of Early Pirates”
by Mike Daisey

IN THE BEGINNING there were two Steves, and this is very important: there was Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Wozniak was a geek’s geek, sort of like a geek version of Santa Claus: very fat, very jolly, and he could code like a motherfucker. He would drink Mountain Dew— WHARRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!—then he would code, all night long. Serious geek— serious genius.

Steve Jobs was something else entirely. He wasn’t even really a geek, he was more like a showman, like an inventor-entrepreneur, and he loomed over the tech industry.

You know, we don’t have many giants like Steve Jobs anymore. I mean, who do we have today?

Ballmer? At Microsoft?

<<makes horrible cat throwing up sound>>

Ballmer’s a fucking monkey! He throws chairs at his subordinates when he’s angry.

Steve Jobs didn’t need to throw chairs.

Steve Jobs could do that shit with his mind.

If Steve Jobs even looked at a subordinate in a certain way, the subordinate would get up and go and get a chair…and beat themselves to death with it.

That’s power. That’s real power.

Jobs was adopted into a working class family. He was always driven and idiosyncratic. He went off to college and dropped out after one semester, but he stayed on campus, auditing the classes he wanted to take while he surfed on other people’s couches, and he began to live a kind of dual existence: half of it in the Pacific Northwest, where he went to vegan communes and dropped a lot of acid, and the other half in what is today Silicon Valley, where he became more and more obsessed with electronics.

And he fused these two parts of himself together until he became a kind of techno-libertarian hippie—someone who believed passionately in the power of technology to transform all our lives, and believed that transformation could be welded to humanist values.

And he hooks up with Wozniak, and the first thing they work on together is a pirate box: it’s a box that lets you hack into the telephone company and steal long-distance calls.

They don’t just make one of them—they make hundreds of them, and they sell them to everybody, but they need to test it, so Jobs has Wozniak test the box by using it to place a call to the Vatican—but spoofing the call so it looks like the call is coming from the White House.

So Wozniak does this and says, “Hello Vatican, this is the White House. I have Henry Kissinger on the line for the Pope.”

And the cardinal—or whoever the fuck answers the phone at the Vatican in the middle of the night—says, “His Holiness is sleeping, but please hold on, we’ll go and wake him.”

And Wozniak says, “OH MY GOD I’M SORRY DON’T DO THAT THIS WAS A MISTAKE DON’T WAKE THE POPE GOODBYE!”

Because he’s a regular geek so he’s like,

“It fucking works, proof of concept. Jesus Christ!”

Now if Jobs had placed that call, Jobs would’ve said,

“Excellent.

Please go and get him.

And while I have you here on the line, listen to the sound of my voice…”

Their next project together is the Apple I. It’s a computer, but it doesn’t look very much like a computer as we imagine them today. And that’s because the beginning of the personal computer revolution was a hobbyist movement, so the kind of people who are going to buy a computer are the people who are into chemistry sets and ham radios.

And so the Apple I is a bundle of circuit boards; it actually comes with a manual that explains exactly how it’s circuited because it’s expected you’ll want to hack it or modify it or fuck with it. It doesn’t even always have a case, and it definitely doesn’t have a keyboard—and that’s a feature, not a bug. Because if you’re the kind of person who bought one, you’re the kind of person who would say, “There’s no keyboard? You mean I get to make my own keyboard? Awesome!”

Now their next project, the Apple II, is entirely different. This looks like a product, it looks like something you could buy in a store, and indeed, thousands of Americans run out and buy it. And they have this brand new experience that Americans had never had before, the experience of going out and buying an incredibly expensive piece of machinery, setting it all up correctly, turning it on…and nothing happens. It just goes:

<<mimics the sound of an Apple II booting up, disk drive whiring, then mimes a cursor blinking>>

That’s because a computer fundamentally is an appliance, and appliances, by their nature, do one thing: your blender blends, your iron irons, and your computer computes—it executes the programs that are run on it. What’s different about a computer is it’s kind of like a chameleon: it becomes whatever program is executing on it—so the value of a computer increases exponentially as more programs are written for it.

And the Apple II drops at this fortuitous moment, when a critical mass of Americans are getting into computing, and it’s them—the users—they are the ones that give value to that machine, that make that computer a success.

They come up with programs that Apple never would’ve thought of, like spreadsheets. People are like,

“You know what’d be great? If there were spreadsheets on the computer. That would be so much better than these clay tablets we’re using now.”

And the Apple II goes on to be the best-selling computer in the history of the world, and a mind virus starts to spread across America, infecting parents everywhere with the idea that if they do not get a computer for their child, their child is fucked.

And parents everywhere fall prey to this—they don’t even know what they do, but they’re like, “Well, Junior, this was certainly very fucking expensive…I hope you know what the fuck to do with it!”

And that’s how I got my first computer.

My first computer was an Apple IIc.

It was bought for my family by my grandfather, who was fairly well off—my family was actually fairly poor, so when the Apple IIc came into our home, it was easily the most expensive thing that had ever been in our home, and so it was treated with a degree of deference as befitting something with that lineage: it was given its own room—the Computer Room—where it sat in its own desk, and we had to ask permission to go and speak with the computer.

It was a beautiful machine. I think everything I fundamentally understand about industrial design I learned looking at and working with that machine. It had this beautiful off-white platinum finish, and there were these slits cut perfectly, vertically, into the top case…the keys had this wonderful travel to them, they were a delight to use, and the font on the keys was Garamond—a font I still feel strongly about today. The disk drive would open and close with a satisfying chunk, and I learned on that machine. I started with the tutorials, played a lot of Lemonade Stand, and moved on to programming in Basic, Pascal, typing in programs from magazines.

I became a writer on that machine. I and the machine learned to write together late into the night, the cold Maine night, everyone else in the house is asleep, I would be there, seated before the computer, the thoughts in my fevered brain traveling down my arms, out my fingers, into the keys, up through the computer, into the screen and spraying back at me as light, this virtuous circle, I and the computer, learning together.

I remember everything about that machine. I remember how the power brick would oscillate…in the depths of the night you could hear the whine going up and down and up and down. I remember how you had to stack pillows on top of the printer if you wanted to print in the middle of the night because it was dot matrix, and it would go:

<<emits a horrifying, piercing impersonation of a dot-matrix printer>>

AIIIIIEEEAAAAAAAAA! AIIIIIEEEAAAAAAAAA! AIIIIIEEEAAAAAAAAA!

<<audience recovers from horrifying dot-matrix printer sound>>

And there were two axes that ran right through Steve Jobs’ character. One is that he was passionate about design, and the other is that he was ruthless in business. And the place where these two best intersect is the Breakout story.

When Apple was barely out of the garage, just starting out, Jobs goes to Wozniak and says, “Listen, I got us a project. It’s a rush job, we have to do it in seventy-two hours. It’s programming this game, Breakout, for Atari. Here’s the deal: if we can make the game fit on fifty chips then we get seven hundred dollars. But if we can make the game fit on fourty chips…then, we get a thousand dollars.”

And Wozniak listens to this, and then he goes, “WHARRRRGGG!,” and he drinks three liters of Mountain Dew! And then he just starts coding—day and night and night and day—and three days later, he’s done it and he goes to Jobs—

<<groggy incomprehensible bear-like geek sounds>>

—and he’s made the game fit on thirty-eight chips. The people at Atari don’t even understand how he did it. They’re like, “What the fuck? I don’t even understand this…just ship it. Just fucking ship it.”

It isn’t until years later, when Apple is a global company and everyone involved are multi-multi-millionaires, it isn’t until then that Wozniak discovers that Jobs was paid five thousand dollars for that project.

And further, there were no conditions from Atari about the number of chips to be used.

Jobs just liked things to be efficient.

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Tomorrow: “Part Four: The Gates of Foxconn”

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”

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part One

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

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1. “Midnight in the Chungking Mansions”
by Mike Daisey

The Mira Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, is exquisitely designed. It’s like the inside of a sailing ship: everything has a place and everything is in its place. I actually find myself opening and closing the little drawers just to see the intricate way they’re fitted together…I can’t help it. It’s just the way I’m wired.

And I head down to the lobby of the Mira Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and I step out into a twenty-first century Hong Kong monsoon season night—the air is so thick with moisture that it’s smearing the ubiquitous neon like we’ve all done just a little bit of LSD—

—and I’m walking down the streets and even though it’s after midnight, there are hundreds of people on every block, and there’s this humid sort of animal smell, the smell of humans in close proximity with one another, a smell we’ve all almost entirely forgotten.

And a few blocks down from the Mira Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, sits the Chungking Mansions.

The Chungking Mansions are a wretched hive of scum and villainy. They sit in the heart of Kowloon; they are nothing more and nothing less than a mall of inequities. Anything you want to get that you probably aren’t supposed to have you can find in the Chungking Mansions after midnight, and I am there, walking up and down the aisles.

It’s like globalism in action. It’s like a pirate-themed Benetton ad.

Sub-Saharan Africans with tribal scars are getting into arguments over garbage bags filled with second-hand cell phones, mainlanders are debating with Koreans over some mysterious root, and in an Indian food stall there are stacks and stacks of tiffins and an off-brand Slurpee machine called a Slurvee.

And in all of this, I am the only minority. Because I am white, and large, and I am wearing…a Hawaiian shirt.

Because you get to a certain point where you realize you just aren’t going to fit in. You get to a certain point and you realize it might be advantageous to just Columbo yourself right into the middle of a situation. I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s a kind of professional blundering. I just kind of…wot, wot? Wot wot wot wot wot!

You get in the most interesting situations that way. Doesn’t help you get back out of them again, but it does make for an interesting life.

And I make my way up to the third floor of the Chungking Mansions, which is where things start getting a little sketchy. And in the course of half an hour I am offered hashish, opium, heroin, sex with women, sex with men, and sex in a combination only described as “delightful.”

And I decline all these offers because that’s not what I’m here for—I find what I’m looking for in a far corner of that third floor next to a rack of cut-rate papaya…there’s this booth.

And in this booth on strands of fishing wire are hundreds and hundreds of cell phones— as though they’ve been caught by some fisherman—and in a sense they have, because the man in the booth is seated at a workbench, he has a phone in front of him with the back popped off, he has a soldering iron in one hand and a big magnifying glass over his left eye. When I walk in he looks at me and his eye looms at me enormously.

And I speak to him in the only international language I know: I say, “iPhone?”

And he smiles, and there’s his gold tooth, and he reaches under the counter and he pulls out an iPhone…except it’s not an iPhone. You can tell right away from the packaging: the kerning on the fonts is all fucked up.

Then when you open it, the phone itself is a pretty good copy but when you turn it on, instead of the graceful swoop of icons onto the screen, these icons stagger on like they all got drunk in Kowloon. And then when you press one of them, instead of a photo-realistic address book, you get a big blue window and the words “ERROR IS MAKING.”

I hand back the “iPhone” and show him what it I mean: I reach into my pocket and I take out my iPhone and when he sees it, he understands and he reaches out his hand. And I take my baby, and I put it in his hand, and he takes a grimy dock cable and he shoves it into the bottom of the phone and his screens light up.

Because this man is a pirate. He’s a hacker, a jailbreaker, an unlocker, a person you go to to fiddle with the baseband of your phone, a person who writes tailored viruses to crack your phone open and give it back to you again, because—you may not know this—but there’s a war going on right now over all those devices in your pockets. A war over who owns them.

You probably think you own them. Why? Because you paid for them?

Silly! The corporations would see it a different way. They would say the devices run on their networks, so they should control them, and there’s a war going on right now, back and forth, over who will own those devices…and in a war like that, there’s a small percentage to be made by pirates like this one who give people back ownership of the things they thought they already owned.

And as he works, we talk back and forth in broken English, and I ask him if it’s hard to stay ahead of Apple and Nokia and Samsung and all the different technology makers who are always building up their defenses that the pirates then have to tear back down again.

And he smiles…and there’s that gold tooth again. And he gestures, a grand gesture that seems incongruous in this tiny booth, and for a moment—he doesn’t look like a hacker in the Chungking Mansions.

He looks like a warrior prince, and these are all his subjects. He smiles, as if to say, “It’s me against Apple. Who do you think is going to win?”

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Tomorrow: “Part Two: The World Before”