Steve Jobs was known for hyperbole–using rhetoric like “magical” to sell us processors and pixels. For all of its snake oil aftertaste, the messaging ushered in an era and redefined a societal view of technology from a scary box to a creative and cool “bicycle for your mind.”
So it’s a bit shocking to watch this formerly unreleased interview from 1994, taken around the time Jobs was pioneering NeXT. In it, he admits the mortality of his own creations, in terms of their product lifecycles and lasting impact on the world to come. He refutes that the products he had a hand in making will age like the still-celebrated works of the Rennaissance. And to be frank, the message is quite bleak. From the interview:
All the work I have done in my life will be obsolete by the time I’m 50…You’re building up a mountain, and you get to contribute your little layer of sedimentary rock–to make the mountain that much higher. But no one on the surface, unless they have X-ray vision, will see your sediment. It’ll be appreciated by that rare geologist. But, nah, it’s not like the Renaissance at all. It’s very different. Very different.
Now, I think Jobs was right about the contributions of companies like Intel–whose ongoing, iterative production process is absolutely vital to current innovation but will ultimately be invisible to future generations. The difference is that Apple was never just about technology. Even back to the original Apple 1, the company’s narrative has been about design. Then, it was about “how do we assemble all these discrete electronic components into a consumer-friendly computer,” while later, it was about “how do we signify digital content and let people manipulate it” with the GUI and touch screen interface.
How are these ideas any different than the breakthrough of linear perspective during the Renaissance? Hasn’t Apple, like any great Renaissance artist, forced us to view the world in a fundamentally new way?
Will future generations stand in line to look at a Macintosh behind bulletproof glass? Maybe. Maybe not. But unlike cutting-edge processors or “high”-resolution screens, good design is timeless. And I refuse to entertain that, in 100 or 200 years, you’ll need to be a historian to have heard of Apple or understand its significance–even if you’ve never used an iPhone or a mouse.
This clip was released by the Silicon Valley Historical Association. It’s part of a 60-minute interview you can download here.