In a world where it is cool to be a nerd, there is no shortage of high-profile heroes within geek culture. However, given the economics behind the technology industry, there really aren’t many cult icons for tech-heads; except the immensely entertaining Steve Wozniak.
Wozniak—or “Woz” as he’s known—was the principle creator of both the Apple I and the Apple II computers that (with Steve Jobs, and a few others) launched the biggest technology company the world has ever seen: Apple.
Those attending last week’s Salesforce conference, TrailheaDX, were invited to attend an amazing Question and Answer session with the Apple co-founder, hosted at the Warfield Theatre in downtown San Francisco. Moderated by Re/code editor Ina Fried, who got the chat off to a great start with a few primary questions before opening the Q’s to the floor.
I for one, was unaware at how much of a chatty gent Woz is. Fried would start a simple question, and before she could even turn it over to Woz he would start fluttering through stories, and extremely down-to-earth obsessions with technology in general. He’s a delightful man, in a general sense, and he had the entire theatre laughing from their guts on multiple occasions.
“I love pranks,” chuckled the multi-millionaire. “I love when they’re done to me, although it rarely happens as I’m so good at pulling them off I can see most set-ups early.“
The most interesting part of the Q&A was the lack of restraint Woz had about being a personable human, even though he was sitting on stage in front of thousands. It felt like we were all the only person in the room with him. And he laughs for real. It’s contagious.
“I don’t like confrontation. I hate competing with others. What I do love is competing within my own little world,” said Woz when asked what he thought about Apple competitors. He then told a little story relating to his desire to outdo himself, and never focusing too much on what others are doing. “When we started, we got scraps from the military. They had the top-of-the-line microchips, and tech. Nowadays, it’s the other way around.”
“Out of all the good that has come from Apple, the greatest thing Apple ever did for tech was to release the third-party app store. It opened up the creation. No longer was it everyone in the room making strides in the technology, but anyone around the world could,” Wozniak said, before sharing with the crowd how amazed they were when they found the Siri app on the store. So taken-aback by the technology that they bought the company, and absorbed the technology soon after.
Also, Steve Wozniak likes telling jokes.
“What’s the difference between a clever person and a wise person? A clever person can get out of any situation that a wise person wouldn’t have gotten in to in the first place.” He laughs. The room laughs along.
An audience member then asked Wozniak what he thought about the environmental implications of technology, and asked him where he thought that division was going.
“I think that technology has allowed the environment issues of the world get out of hand,” he replied. “We’re often too busy focusing on the big picture. When you buy something made, we tend to think about the footprint the production of that one item, when really we should be considering the footprint from the entire process, and all of the products made.”
Another member of the crowd asks when does Wozniak think computers will overtake the human race, and it got a little real. “That has already happened. They won decades ago. Why? Because we’ll fire a human for the smallest thing, but we’ll never fire the computer that makes cheap clothing.”
But nothing stays serious with Woz for long. In any situation, ever, I assume.
After telling a short story about a prank he played during his time at the University of California, Berkeley, “I was already a well-known name in Silicon Valley by the time I enrolled at Berkeley, though my face wasn’t famous, so I had to come up with a fake name.” Woz laughed in his telling, giving the audience clear indication the payoff would be good. “So to this day, I have a degree from Berkeley in my office that says Rocky Raccoon Clark on it.”
“I get to try a lot of technology, and usually early, so I appreciate the opportunity I get to break it, or find the limits to its function,” he told the audience. “My favorite piece of tech right now is my Tesla, [my wife] Janet and I will try to drive it so far out of its allowed bounds to see if we can shut it off. I just love doing stuff like that.”
There’s something about the genuine sound of the man’s chuckle that helps bridge the gap between the icon on stage, and the thousands of eager fans, still trying to make an impact with technology, sitting in front of him. The entire sessions was drenched in authenticity. Wozniak is a person I could listen to at great lengths, about pretty much anything.
The most impactful thing to take away from all of the insight, and stories Wozniak told that night was when he was asked about the negative affects that technology is having on children, and families. “I have children. And I want them to have all of the technology they can get their hands on. There’s no other way for them to learn about it. When we were young this stuff wasn’t available. We come from a different generation. That’s why it seems so off to parents these days. It’s not OFF, it’s just different.” Woz stated.
“I don’t think the separation that technology creates is a bad thing. It’s just not the world, or homes, we grew up in. So it looks bad. With all good technology comes bad. We studied the Atom, and we ended up with the atomic bomb.” He proceeded to address the idea that any single generation was happier than any other “Every generation thinks theirs was better than the next one. Simpler maybe. We think we’re going to eventually reach that utopia of a perfectly happy generation. It won’t happen.”
It’s all about doing what makes you happy Wozniak stressed.
“I discovered the formula for happiness very early-on in my life. It’s H = S – F or Happiness equals Smiles minus Frowns. If what you’re doing isn’t making you smile, do something that will.”