In October 1994, I had an opportunity to interview Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, on camera.
One of Steve’s best friends, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, had convinced Steve that our documentary, “Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance,” was worth his time. Upon arriving at the NeXT Computer office for the interview, Steve was all business; he had no questions to ask about us. But as soon as the camera started filming, Steve became a different person — someone who felt natural and charming to the camera lens.
My line of questioning fell into three categories:
Discuss the difficulties of starting a business in Silicon Valley.
We went and talked to the venture capitalists and none of them would give us any money. One of them referred to me as a renegade from the human race; because I had longer hair then. And you know none of them would give us any money. Thank God!
What inspired you to be different?
One of the things that Woz (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak) and I did was we built blue boxes. These are obsolete now, but they were devices that you could build. When you make a long distance phone call, in the background, you hear ‘toodle, toodle, toodle.’
Those are the telephone computers actually signaling each other, sending information to each other to set up your call, and the signaling they use is a lot like touch-tone phones, only it’s different frequencies. Well, you can make a box that emits those frequencies and these were illegal.
It was the magic of the fact that two teenagers could build this box for a $100 worth of parts and control hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure in the entire telephone network in the world, from Los Altos and Cupertino, California. That was magical! We could sort of influence the world, you know, control it in the case of blue boxes, but something much more powerful than controlling — influencing in the case of Apple. And they are very closely related.
I really do to this day feel that if we hadn’t have had those blue box experiences, there never would have been an Apple Computer.
Do you think Silicon Valley’s culture is similar to the European Renaissance?
All the work that I have done will be obsolete by the time I’m 50. Apple 2 is obsolete now. Apple 1 was obsolete many years ago. The Macintosh is on the verge of becoming obsolete in a few years. This is a field where one does not write a ‘Principia,’ which holds up for 200 years. This is not a field where one paints a painting that will be looked at for centuries, or builds a church that will be admired and looked at in astonishment for centuries. It’s not like the Renaissance at all. It’s very different. ●
Almost the entire 1994 Steve Jobs interview has been used in the documentaries: “Steve Jobs: Visionary Entrepreneur,” “Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance” and “Silicon Valley: A Five Part Series.”
John McLaughlin is founder and president of the Silicon Valley Historical Association.