Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Steve Jobs turned things around for the U.S.

There’s a generation that was born after 1980 that has this idea that the 1970s was a wasteland when it came to innovation and excitement.

The trouble is, they’re mostly right.

But then there was this guy named Steve Jobs, and he created a big exception.

Today, I join many others in worrying. Sorry, but when I hear someone having pancreas issues, that’s a sign someone isn’t long for this world. Steve Jobs will go down in history as one of the great innovators of our era, and the thought that he might die young breaks my heart.

He really saved this country.

The majority of the Apollo moon missions went on in the early 1970s, but the Vietnam War and the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate were just the beginning of the disappointments in a decade that had begun with such high hopes.

I turned 10 in November 1970 and had a pretty decent middle-class upbringing, but even then things were not always that secure. Still, we had a nice house on 80th Street in Elmhurst (now Middle Village), Queens, N.Y., and I went to Newtown High School after graduating from Our Lady of Hope elementary school.

The thing about the 1970s, and especially the time after the Bicentennial, was that the nation was in “a malaise.” President Jimmy Carter symbolized the era, with talk of lowered thermostats, slow economy cars, shows like “Happy Days” on TV and lowered expectations. After the nightmare of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate mess, his resignation, President Gerald Ford, the infamous pardon of Nixon and the even-more-infamous WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons, I doubt the current generation of youths at University of Florida would be able to do more than fall to the ground in a fetal position and wail if they got into a time machine and emerged back then.

Believe me, there were times back then when that seemed like a viable option for me.

And remember, there was no Internet, no cable TV (in New York, at least), no cellphones and nothing but ourselves and our good friends to sustain us. (And weed, but that’s another story.)

It was a golden age of rock music, though, and I was recently listening to XM Radio and heard “All Good People” by Yes, and was transported back. I found my “The Very Best of Yes” CD and ripped several songs onto my iPhone, taking walks and listening to those great tunes.

The right kind of Jobs program
When I think back to my teenage years, it’s always around 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday or Wednesday on a gray mid-November day in New York City, and I’m walking home from the late session at high school. It’s cold, and it’s going to get colder as the fall wears on. The weekend is so far away, and it’s just more gray-ness. The holidays offer some hope, but then you pay for them in January, February and March, as the weather just gets even grayer.

It was rare to see the sun most days then, and one day a gym teacher announced that in response to some questions about that thing in the sky on one day when the clouds had parted, he was going to let us know that that thing in the sky was called the Sun.

I’d go home as the day turned into twilight and night, eat dinner and do homework or watch TV. It seemed like the gray life was my destiny.

If only I were somewhere else …

California dreamin’
If I had had my druthers, I would wish to have been raised in a place like California. Sure, Mickey Mouse was there, but there was a wonderland out there even more amazing: Silicon Valley.

I didn’t know much about Silicon Valley in the late 1970s, and had hardly heard of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak or a company called Apple. But from what I gather from the histories of the personal computer, amid all the malaise of the late 1970s and the Jimmy Carter years, there was no malaise in that part of California where Steve Jobs and his cohorts were creating a new industry.

Today, even I can hardly imagine life without a computer, but back then computers were in big businesses and offices, and did work. Sure, there was “Pong” and other things that hooked to your TV, but the idea that you’d do anything useful with a home computer was the stuff of Popular Mechanics magazine and science fiction.

We were told that in the future we’d have amazing gadgets, but no one told us they were being invented out there on the “left coast.”

The late 1970s was a time of astounding innovation and technical wizardry, and Steve Jobs was right in the middle of it all. He and Steve Wozniak brought to life the Apple I, the Apple II and then the Macintosh. Sure, it wasn’t all magic, and the story is that Jobs terrorized people, but he turned Apple from an also-ran in the computer industry back into the dominant player that it is today.

When they build the giant hall of fame for computing, Steve Jobs is going to be right up there with the greats.


August 31, 2011 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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