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Steve Wozniak: Hacker, Legend, Boomer

Apple’s cofounder talks about the company’s birth in exclusive outtakes from a new PBS program.

The PBS series American Masters is doing an special on baby boomers. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, “The Boomer List” pays tribute to 19 notable people who happen to have been born between 1946 and 1964, including Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Joel, Kim Cattrall, Rosie O’Donnell, Maria Shriver, David LaChapelle, Amy Tan, and Erin Brockovich.

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But the reason I’m writing about the show–which premieres next Tuesday, September 23, at 9 p.m.–is because it also features Steve Wozniak, the cofounder of Apple and designer of the Apple II. (Years ago, I declared that computer to be the greatest PC of all time–an assessment I see no reason to reconsider.)

American Masters was nice enough to give Fast Company a bit of exclusive outtake footage of Woz talking about what got him excited about computers. Which led to him creating his own machine. Which led, in a roundabout way over several decades, to the MacBook Air I’m typing this article on.

Video: courtesy of American Masters

One of the many neat things about Wozniak is that he’s at least as excited about computers as he was when he was a high-school student breaking into university computer centers to steal time on mainframes back in the 1960s. That enthusiasm comes across in this clip.

(Side note: When Wozniak makes mention of having spent five years selling “my designs” with Steve Jobs, he’s not just talking about computers–he’s counting the period during which the budding entrepreneurs sold blue boxes, which could be used to place voice calls over AT&T’s network for free. Totally illegal, but a virtuoso feat of engineering, like everything else Wozniak created.)

The thing I find most striking about the idea of Woz appearing in a TV show about boomers is that it’s a reminder of just how young the whole idea of personal computing is. A few major figures–including, sadly, Steve Jobs–are gone. But many more of the industry’s founders are still very much with us. Including Wozniak, who turned 64 last month.

We should cherish them while they’re still around –and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as giving Woz too much credit for the revolution he helped to instigate.

About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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