I was part of a writer/photographer team that interviewed Steve Jobs during his Next years; we conducted the interview at an Ann Arbor trade show the day before the 1989 Loma Prieta/San Francisco earthquake.
Until now, I never connected the two.
Jobs was the consummate showman; the Next workstation hadn’t yet been released, but was supposed to pack engineering workstation power in a sexy 12″ cube.
The Next booth was built in secrecy behind shrouds, and when it came time to populate it with machines, Jobs lined up twelve people — each carrying a Next workstation — and sent them through the crowd.
I couldn’t decide if it was showmanship or megalomania, but later realized it was simply attention to detail — the act of someone who would later throw out expensive, “good enough” prototype smartphones because they featured more than one button.
The interview itself was predictably opaque; Jobs played things pretty close to the vest, and interviewers often tied themselves into knots looking for an opening, which Jobs never supplied. I remember almost nothing from the interview except that he warned us we’d get only one picture at its conclusion.
In retrospect, that fact probably should have opened the interview.
I bought one of the original 128K Macs, a brilliant machine crippled by Jobs’ insistence that it have no expansion slots — one of the decisions that initially wounded the Macintosh in the PC market.
A sleek, no-slot PC is a pretty cripple, but a one-button mp3 player (or smartphone, or tablet) is no cripple at all, and the aesthetic that hampered Jobs in the computer world paid off in the consumer goods markets, where he really hit his stride.
It would be presumptuous to say Jobs eventually realized perfect boxes weren’t the goal as much as a perfect experience (though it neatly explains iTunes and Pixar), and I have little desire to join the thousands already casting about in the dark about a man we didn’t know.
I’ll simply suggest he had the effect on many of us of a long, rolling earthquake, and yesterday the rumbling ceased, and we are the poorer for it.