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'Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview' offers fascinating insights

Rochester Business Journal
December 27, 2013


The iPad owes a lot to blue boxes, but not the sort of boxes with colorful paper, ribbon and a bow, which might be under a festive tree near you. I am referring to the blue boxes once used to cheat "Ma Bell" out of phone call revenue-boxes that were an entry point to the technology future.
 
To learn more, check out the recently discovered interview, considered lost for over 15 years, that features the unusual insights of the late Steve Jobs. What makes the insights even more unusual is that this interview took place in 1995; that's just before he came back from the outside to help build Apple into the powerhouse it is today.
 
No offense to Ashton Kutcher (who would have been 17 at the time of the interview) or even Noah Wyle, but no one could play Steve Jobs as well as Steve Jobs. And this video shows it. After being misplaced and presumed lost, the recording was found-perhaps fittingly-in a garage, cleaned up, put in context and made available for viewing. (Early Apple computers were built in Jobs' bedroom and garage.)

Party like it's 1995!
Where were you in 1995? What personal technology did you have in your home? Did you have access to the Internet yet? That year marks the beginning of the graphical Web era and Windows 95. And Jobs-now known as the controversial co-founder of Apple Computer, widely recognized as a visionary and credited with transforming the world of personal electronics over and over again-was then in quite a different situation. In 1995, it had been a decade since he had been removed from his duties at Apple; it was two years before his company, NeXT Inc., was acquired by Apple, bringing him back into the fold.
 
It was that man-or the person Steve Jobs wanted known-whom I got to know better while looking for something technology-related to watch on Netflix a while back. One offering in particular caught my eye: a session called "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview." The description of the video spoke of a man who was an inspiration in my early days of "computer columning," known as Robert X. Cringely; that's the pseudonym of a very clever writer for InfoWorld (for those of you who remember when we geeks would receive PC Week and InfoWorld in those pre-Internet days to keep up with technology advances).
 
Cringely had interviewed Jobs for a PBS documentary about the development of the personal computer, and only 10 minutes of the 70-minute recorded interview had been used in the show as aired. The rest was considered lost.
 
You might think the intervening years would have made the rediscovered content irrelevant. But however dated it may seem, it paints an amazing picture of the man and his obvious brilliance, his vision and his ability to see the importance of the Web in its earliest days. And it points out that the iPad owes its lineage to blue boxes other than those under the holiday tree.

Party like it's 2600!
Jobs discussed his technical starting point: With long-time collaborator Steve Wozniak, he sold blue boxes. The devices could reproduce the audible tones used by the phone company to control phone calls. Probably the best-known frequency is 2600 hertz, which coincidentally was the frequency of a toy whistle given away in boxes of Captain Crunch cereal at a point in time.
 
As Jobs notes in the video, "Experiences like that taught us the power of ideas. The power of understanding that if you could build this box, you could control hundreds of millions of dollars around the world, that's a powerful thing. If we wouldn't have made blue boxes, there would have been no Apple."

Schadenfreude
The rest of the video is revealing in many ways. In 1995, he foresaw that the Web would turn computers into communication devices. Today we walk around with our connected mobile phones, using Skype and otherwise being connected by the Internet, but that was a bold assessment when having an email address and knowing how to use Yahoo was considered leading-edge.
 
He noted that the Web had the potential to "destroy vast layers of our economy and make available a presence in the marketplace for very small companies, one that is equal to very large companies." Yep.
 
But perhaps the biggest thing for me was seeing Steve Jobs play Steve Jobs. His public reputation is that he was rude, dismissive, hostile and capricious; that his first initial "S" stood for "Schadenfreude," pleasure at the misfortune of others; that he instilled fear in his employees. I have no reason to speak ill of the man, but I have this from colleagues who worked with him personally and bear their scars proudly.
 
That, however, is not the Steve Jobs of the 1995 interview. Outrageous? Of course. Humble? Much more than you might think. His message was to work hard and surround yourself with smart people and expect a lot from yourself and them.
 
Whether you are a fan or a foe of Jobs, if you are interested in the history of computing, in the past, present and future of Apple, in entrepreneurship and business success or in seeing a man who is about to change history just before he does so, I recommend tracking down this video. The production values are minimal, but you will find something of interest.
 
Eric E. Cohen, CPA, of PwC, is spending his time reinventing how accounting information is shared, with XBRL International.

12/27/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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