Long Read: Steve Jobs Playboy Interview

Most of my reading on the internet is quick; 6 paragraph news articles, compressing down into something I can read in less than 5 minutes, because I seldom have the time to spend longer than that. I do read in my spare time, but it’s usually 1950s-1970s sci-fi — not non-fiction news articles.

This morning though, I was linked to this Slate article about some of the best stories about the early computer industry which led me to a 1983 Playboy interview with Steve Jobs — and I’m amazed at some of what is said there.

I wasn’t one of the mourners at Steve Jobs’ death — I just didn’t have a lot of interaction with Jobs as anything other than a marketing personality. I got into computers in the mid 90s — my first home computer was Christmas of ’93, and the Mac, although ever-present in my early educational career, was always a slightly dated concept at best. It was never a core part of my life, and although I’ve been using Apple for my laptop hardware for the past 7 years, I never really bought into the Cult of Mac the way some people did.

Reading the Playboy interview though, I was struck by how much, in 1983, Jobs’ role and interactions in Apple played out exactly as he thought they would. His idea that IBM PCs, if they succeeded, would limit innovation in hardware for a “Dark Age” of 20 years, though not exactly spot on, is probably something that he would say came true — and that Apple, with OS X and later with the iPhone/iPad revolution, was really exactly the kind of thing I can see as being a fulfilled vision there.

To the rest of the world, the hardware revolution stopped mattering for a long time in personal computing — or at least, I think of it that way. Comparing the computers of today to the computers of 2000 — hell, even the computers of 1995 — didn’t innovate very much in changing user interactions. The “smartphone” started to make that change in early 2000s, a bit, but I think that the iPhone and iPad have really changed computing in a fundamental way for a lot of people. (Out of that has come other technology — like the Kindle — that is also changing the way that people interact with computers, in my mind.)

There were also a number of other things he talked about — like weaving in and out of Apple as he continued his life, or like predicting the death of what I guess were the other significant computer manufacturers then (Radio Shack, Wang, TI, Xerox, etc.) — a fact which shocked the interviewer.

It really changes my perspective on Jobs, and to a lesser extent, on Apple as a whole, to see that 30 years ago, Jobs could see pretty much exactly the way things worked out. It’s a pretty weird thing to read to me.

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