Mobile is just the beginning

Steve Jobs on man as a tool maker

Jason Kottke’s recent post The iPhone, an automobile for the mind, discusses the same Steve Jobs anecdote on man as a tool maker, that I used last week in Reset the Web. Jason points to a different—and much later—source of this story, illustrating how Steve Job’s ideas evolved as Apple developed.

My source was this video from 1980 which was posted as part of a Computer History Museum archive on Steve Jobs. I’m not sure who Steve is talking to in this presentation, but it feels like a local meetup somewhere in the valley. He arrives a bit late, complains about problems finding parking, then begins to describe the challenges of designing something completely new…all the while not really knowing what people will use it for.

This later interview is the one Jason pointed to. It’s an excerpt from the documentary Memory & Imagination. By this time, the bicycle story feels far more scripted.

I personally prefer the first video as Steve almost seemed to be thinking out loud…trying to explain (to the audience, and maybe to himself) why he felt the products Apple was building were so special, and why something truly remarkable would happen once everyone had one (…a computer that is…not a Mac :-P ).

Still, it must have been hard back then to truly grasp what might happen next.

Musing about the future is always tricky when you’re so embroiled in the present. In a recent interview, Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired) said that initially, people thought the web would be “like TV, but better”. Looking back, this seems quite naive but i’m not sure that much has changed. Even today, do we really know what the web will be going forward?

I increasingly feel that we may be stuck in somewhat of a nether world when it comes to the web. We know the web is important. We want all the stuff the web has been good for so far, but we also want the stuff we think it will be good for later (or have felt was missing so far). All the while, we still frequently disagree on what those things actually are (and can only even conceive of them based on mental models we currently have).

“We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” —Marshall McLuhan

Meanwhile, (with or without us?) the web marches on.

We may not really know what the web will become, but i’m pretty sure it’s one of the most pervasive amplification tools man’s created to date…affecting just about every human activity we can think of (the good as well as the bad ones).

And with another two thirds of the planet still set to come on line, the web is really just getting started.

Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?” —Kevin Kelly, for the New York Times

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