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Playboy Interview: Steve Jobs

Submitted by Leo Klein on Mon, 12/15/14 (7:56pm)
Pub Date: 
02/01/1985
Author: 
Source: 

That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t have to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh—but you asked.
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The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people—as remarkable as the telephone.
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But remember that first the public telegraph was inaugurated, in 1844. It was an amazing breakthrough in communications. You could actually send messages from New York to San Francisco in an afternoon. People talked about putting a telegraph on every desk in America to improve productivity. But it wouldn’t have worked. It required that people learn this whole sequence of strange incantations, Morse code, dots and dashes, to use the telegraph. It took about 40 hours to learn. The majority of people would never learn how to use it. So, fortunately, in the 1870s, Bell filed the patents for the telephone. It performed basically the same function as the telegraph, but people already knew how to use it. Also, the neatest thing about it was that besides allowing you to communicate with just words, it allowed you to sing.

Playboy: Meaning what?

Jobs: It allowed you to intone your words with meaning beyond the simple linguistics. And we’re in the same situation today. Some people are saying that we ought to put an IBM PC on every desk in America to improve productivity. It won’t work. The special incantations you have to learn this time are “slash q-zs” and things like that. The manual for WordStar, the most popular word-processing program, is 400 pages thick. To write a novel, you have to read a novel—one that reads like a mystery to most people. They’re not going to learn slash q-z any more than they’re going to learn Morse code. That is what Macintosh is all about. It’s the first “telephone” of our industry. And, besides that, the neatest thing about it, to me, is that the Macintosh lets you sing the way the telephone did. You don’t simply communicate words, you have special print styles and the ability to draw and add pictures to express yourself.

Playboy: Is that really significant or is it simply a novelty? The Macintosh has been called “the world’s most expensive Etch A Sketch” by at least one critic.

Jobs: It’s as significant as the difference between the telephone and the telegraph. Imagine what you could have done if you had this sophisticated an Etch A Sketch when you were growing up. But that’s only a small part of it. Not only can it help you increase your productivity and your creativity enormously, but it also allows us to communicate more efficiently by using pictures and graphs as well as words and numbers.

Playboy: Most computers use key strokes to enter instructions, but Macintosh replaces many of them with something called a mouse—a little box that is rolled around on your desk and guides a pointer on your computer screen. It’s a big change for people used to keyboards. Why the mouse?

Jobs: If I want to tell you there is a spot on your shirt, I’m not going to do it linguistically: “There’s a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button.” If you have a spot—“There!” [he points]—I’ll point to it. Pointing is a metaphor we all know. We’ve done a lot of studies and tests on that, and it’s much faster to do all kinds of functions, such as cutting and pasting, with a mouse, so it’s not only easier to use but more efficient.

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Jobs: The developments will be in making the products more and more portable, networking them, getting out laser printers, getting out shared data bases, getting out more communications ability, maybe the merging of the telephone and the personal computer.

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Apple is an Ellis Island company. Apple is built on refugees from other companies. These are the extremely bright individual contributors who were troublemakers at other companies.

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There’s always been this myth that really neat, fun people at home all of a sudden have to become very dull and boring when they come to work. It’s simply not true. If we can inject that liberal-arts spirit into the very serious realm of business, I think it will be a worthwhile contribution. We can’t even conceive of how far it will go.

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Playboy: Were you then, or have you ever been, a computer nerd?

Jobs: I wasn’t completely in any one world for too long. There was so much else going on. Between my sophomore and junior years, I got stoned for the first time; I discovered Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and all that classic stuff. I read Moby Dick and went back as a junior taking creative-writing classes. By the time I was a senior, I’d gotten permission to spend about half my time at Stanford, taking classes.
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