SN&R's interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak
On privacy, the digital divide and the real Steve Jobs
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak isn't one to mince words—whether he's riffing on his late business partner Steve Jobs or why computers don't necessarily improve classrooms. These days, the 63-year-old college dropout (and inventor of the first Apple computer) still receives a stipend from the company he left in 1987. His time, however, is focused largely on philanthropical, educational and entrepreneurial efforts. Wozniak, who kicks off the Sacramento Speakers Series on Tuesday, October 1, recently chatted with SN&R about Jobs, wearable technology and what, exactly, he has in common with Brad Pitt.
What can people expect from a night with Steve Wozniak?
It’s to going to be [like] minispeeches with questions and very off-the-cuff answers. Generally, there is a moderator to keep the questions flowing, to [make sure the] questions are important and noteworthy. We may take some of the questions from tweets.
Some of those questions will likely revolve around Steve Jobs. You’ve already said you weren’t a fan of the Jobs biopic.
Yes, and I’d get into some specifics about the ways in which it was inaccurate—from the way it presented his mannerisms to what was going on in the company. … He kept trying to have success at Apple, but he kept having failures instead: the Apple III, the Lisa, the Macintosh. He had the vision of the future, but he was too anxious and not patient enough. The film glorified him for his artistic vision above it all, and his artistic way of thinking. That’s what he had as the company runner, as the face of the company: He had the ability to execute and operate as a CEO when he returned to Apple [in 1997] and kept the company in good shape, but the movie presented him as the leader at every stage when, really, he was really the learner. And it left out [the] people like me … who were [creating and innovating]. It left all that out. Worse than that, it wasn’t interesting.
OK, back to you. You once taught free computer classes to elementary schoolchildren in Los Gatos, California; was this an effort to bridge the digital divide for those who normally might not have access to such classes?
I taught for eight years, [but] it wasn’t because I wanted to bridge the digital divide. I just wanted to teach.
What did you learn by teaching?
I learned that class size is very critical to keeping students’ attention. I learned that California is 50th in [the] nation in class size. I started thinking, when we had elections in cities, we want to pay more for education. I spent $10,000 to mail postcards to everyone in Cupertino [where I lived] to get them to vote to [pay more taxes] for education, but it failed because it only got 50 percent of the vote, and thanks to [Proposition 13], you need a two-thirds vote. It did pass, eventually, in Los Gatos.
But you didn’t start teaching because you thought students lacked access to technology?
I don’t think the digital divide is that strong of an issue. People who are down and out economically—the computer doesn’t mean as much to their lives and success and where they’re at in their station in life. I’m more interested in improving education, and computers haven’t done well when it comes to that.
Why do you say that?
They’ve changed how we learn and what we use to learn, but we need to change the education paradigm that has everyone learning the same thing at same time and then getting tested on it at the same time. That doesn’t work; it doesn’t allow someone to go off on their own like I did. School limits you. How can we choose our own courses? In a class of 30, you can’t have students learning different things, going at different speeds. [But] if you have a teacher who cares, you cannot fail. [That teacher] can make things interesting. We need a computer that’s more like a human being and makes things interesting, not a computer that’s like a computer. That computer would need to know you like a human: know your interests, know what makes you you. From what I understand, we’re not there yet [with technology], and we may not be there for another 30 to 40 years. And thanks to politics, we may not be there for another 200 years.
What are some of the current challenges of technology from a consumer standpoint?
The computer market has always been one of upgrades—we replace older stuff with more stuff. We can make much more stuff with chips of silicon than we did the year before. It’s [like] Moore’s law: We manage to make each product a little smaller, a little closer to the body. We’re on the verge of a wearable revolution. … I’m hoping that Apple is one that thinks outside the box.
You’ve said you want the next smartphone to be a watch.
I wear an iPod on my wrist for music. It’s simple. I want my computer there. I want my whole phone to have a little more information.
So, iPhone or Android?
My preference has been iPhone, since I’m Apple, but I’m interested in Google Glass. Google Glass seems like a lot of fun, but I’m afraid that people—it’s like Bluetooth: You show it off for a while, and it’s the coolest thing, but then after a period of time, it’s not really a critical piece of your life. [But] I think it’s going to be worth watching, I want one [because] you can hear it speaking to you. I want to be able to ask it questions all day long and get an answer back in my ear. I look forward to a phone that tells me who someone is based on what I’m near. I have that same affliction that Brad Pitt has in that I don’t recognize faces of people I’ve met before.
What’s your take on companies such as Google and Facebook that constantly raise privacy concerns—or the users who willingly give up privacy in exchange for the product or service?
Everybody is willing to give up some privacy. I’m used to having a camera follow me 24-seven. I don’t care about my privacy—but I fight for others’ privacy. No company that comes out [with a product or service] will absolutely guarantee privacy [or] to not use data outside of our own needs. … I decided a long time ago, when I was 20, I was going to be very open with the world—it keeps you from doing bad things, so I’m the wrong person to ask [about privacy], because I’m just too open. But let me say this, if I send you a letter or have a phone call with you, I have a reasonable expectation that it should be kept between you and I. That’s very wrong, [to have] constantly changing levels of encryption, creating back doors [that make it easier for others to access information]. This is very sad. It’s making people think that the technology is winning. The technology is controlling us, but the humans should always win.