Thirty-two years ago today, the revolution began. It was on this day in 1984 that Apple launched the Macintosh computer. Let’s forget momentarily who stole from whom for the technology that brought us the icon and the mouse. I recently watched Steve Jobs, wherein Michael Fassbender does a disappearing act and fully transforms to embody the late Apple co-founder. The film is interesting and dynamic, despite the fact that nothing actually happens (and the fact that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wasn’t nominated for an Oscar is just one of many puzzles during this year’s awards season). What most struck me, however, wasn’t Steve Jobs the computer genius (his original Macintosh was obscenely overpriced at $2,500 for technology that wouldn’t run a microwave today). Rather, I was fascinated how much Steve Jobs understood human mentality.
At the time, all computers were embracing open-system technology, whereby “geeks” could get into a computer and add on whenever and however they wanted. Jobs’ partner at Apple, Steve Wozniak, wanted to expand the open system to rival what IBM was producing. The film version of their story is very much a battle over open- v. closed-platform devices. Jobs predicted that the masses that would eventually cross over the digital divide wouldn’t want to think too hard about their computers; they wouldn’t want to understand what a motherboard was or desire unrestricted access to software and peripherals outside of the box occupying their desk surface.
I joke, being a PC/Android adopter myself, that I am not an iPerson. However, I think Jobs understood the appeal of the lowercase “i” in how humans would end up being subservient to the technology they were embracing. The 1984 commercial announcing the Macintosh launch, which I remember watching during the Super Bowl, painted a drab picture of automatons who would only follow the edicts of the screen. The irony is that we have become that audience, with little interest in “digging deeper” or understanding anything being filtered through out technology to us. In this information age, the iPerson only looks to her Facebook (or other social media) feed for knowledge. The iPerson seeks out more iPeople just like him to embrace his entrenched ideas so that none of us has to think too hard.
Look to the nonsense of this weekend’s weather, where you would have thought that the end times had arrived. It’s January, for pity’s sake. If I get 30 inches of snow in July, yeah, that’s probably news (I live in the Northern Hemisphere). A blizzard in January isn’t something to get too worked up about. Everyone in my family went out in it yesterday (my daughter to have brunch in the city, my son to play with a friend that lives about five blocks from home, and myself to lead a beer tour that was “cancelled” half-way through… except that my intrepid “snow dogs” weren’t going to cave in and run back to their hotel rooms). We all came back wet and well exercised (marching in knee-deep snow is good for the cardio vascular system). But the entire Internet was consumed with the dire forecasts of “weather gone wild.” We people of the iNation no longer think. We just process the “news” that comes at us and our reactions are nonsensical. There’s “being prepared” and there’s “being scared.” Lately it seems we all gravitate to the latter.
About a week ago, I learned that American Al Jazeera would stop broadcasting. They couldn’t “survive in the current economic climate,” which translated means they didn’t find a “sugar daddy” to support them and their very democratic model of news delivery. AAJ was the only news network not pandering to the left or right. They didn’t vomit propaganda. They delivered real news with both nuanced and in-depth coverage. Something the average iPerson had no interest in parsing.
Another movie on the awards circuit this year is Spotlight, which follows the investigative team of the Boston Globe as they “out” pedophilic priests in the Boston Archdiocese. While the movie doesn’t have the dramatic tension of an All the President’s Men, it does remind me that not too long ago, Americans wanted real news and were patient enough to read stories that couldn’t be summarized via “listicle” or 500-word blog (she types as she hits word #710).
What happened to us? How was Steve Jobs so right that we really didn’t want to understand what was “going on behind the curtain”? What happened to our curiosity or our quest for the truth? Maybe I’m just being nostalgic thinking that we were ever an intellectually curious people. I can look to our schools and the breakdown of tradition or the segmentation of the populace that comes from niche technology. However, that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve become the laziest people in the history of humanity. The tools that should make us more efficient have created the iPerson, someone who refuses to stretch or to be challenged.
There’s this idea that AI (artificial intelligence) will doom the human race. In fact, we don’t need AI to conquer us. The machines have already taken over. They’re only as dumb as the people who refuse to open the box and figure out what’s going on inside.