Watch CNN Films’ “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” Saturday, January 9, at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.
Alex Gibney's CNN film "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine" shows many sides of a complex man
As a boy, he met William Hewlett; he hacked Ma Bell; he loved Dylan and Ram Dass
Watch the film on Saturday, January 9, at 9 p.m. ET on CNN
There’s no one version of Steve Jobs.
Myth-making salesman. Hard-nosed businessman.
Adventurous seeker. Brutal critic.
There are teenagers who see him as another Einstein, the man who unlocked their technological dreams with Apple’s – that is, Jobs’ – iPhones, iPads and Macs.
There are colleagues who see him as a harsh taskmaster who, nonetheless, helped drive them to create their best work. And there are loved ones and rivals who see him as selfish, evasive, distant and cruel.
More on the film
He was, as director Alex Gibney’s film “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” shows, whatever you wanted to see.
Here are five details that offer glimpses into the man:
He was born to Silicon Valley in more ways than one
Jobs grew up in the San Francisco suburbs, and even before the area became known as Silicon Valley, he was an active technology user. He built devices with Heathkits, do-it-yourself kits for hobbyists. He saw his first computer at 12 and became part of the Hewlett-Packard Explorers Club, a group of students into electronics. Hewlett-Packard, founded in 1939 in Palo Alto, is considered Silicon Valley’s pioneering company.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography “Steve Jobs,” Jobs tells the story of cold-calling William Hewlett, HP’s co-founder, in search of some parts. “He answered and chatted with me for 20 minutes,” Jobs said. Hewlett later helped him get a job at an HP plant. Jobs was still a teenager.
Apple later become part of Silicon Valley’s continuing success story, basing its headquarters in Cupertino.
His first business success? A long-distance phone hack
Jobs met Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, when he was a teen. Wozniak was five years older, but the two became fast friends.
In 1971, Wozniak read an Esquire magazine article about “blue boxes,” devices used by “phone phreaks” that could allow users to illegally place, for free, what were then very expensive long-distance calls.
Jobs decided that he and Wozniak would sell blue boxes.
“It was the magic that two teenagers could build this box for a hundred dollars’ worth of parts and control hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure in the entire telephone network in the whole world,” Jobs says in “The Man in the Machine.” “That was magical.”
As Wozniak told Esquire in 2015, “I was the emcee talking about all the folklore of phone phreaking. Steve was there to do the sales and money. You’ve read books about Steve Jobs (version) 1 and Steve Jobs 2; this was Steve Jobs 0.”
He was a hardcore Bob Dylan fan
Gibney peppers “The Man in the Machine” with Dylan tunes with good reason: Jobs loved the bard from Hibbing, Minnesota.
Throughout his life, Jobs tracked down Dylan bootlegs and obsessively listened to them. In 2006, as Isaacson recounts, he was instrumental in creating a Dylan digital boxed set for iTunes, which included 773 tracks. Dylan was featured in Apple ads, including the famed “Think Different” campaign.
Jobs was even fond of rewriting Dylan lyrics – a practice he used to woo girlfriend Chrisann Brennan.
“He handed me a poem by Bob Dylan, ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,’ ” she recalls in the film. “He would rewrite Dylan lyrics to fit his life.”
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He looked to India and Japan for spiritual sustenance
A favorite book of Jobs was “Be Here Now,” yogi Ram Dass’ work on meditation and spirituality. The Buddhist concept of simplicity appealed greatly to the future Apple co-founder, who invested the company’s products with minimalist design and clean lines and, for a time, lived in a house with little clutter or material possessions.
He also traveled to both countries – Japan more than 40 times in the second half of his life, Gibney observes.
And yet, to some observers, Jobs never obtained the spiritual plane he may have sought.
“He didn’t know what real connection was,” Brennan told Gibney. “In ‘Be Here Now’ by Ram Dass … when someone goes into a state of enlightenment, but they do it while they’re still attached to their ego, they call that ‘the golden chain.’ And that’s what I feel happened to Steve. He went into magnificence and into enlightenment, but he just blew it.”
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He could be remarkably petty and amazingly inspiring
Stories about Jobs’ selfishness are common. He would lease a new Mercedes every six months because he didn’t have to get a license plate during that period; he’d then park the car in spaces reserved for disabled people. He denied paternity of Lisa, his daughter by Brennan, saying he was sterile. His paternity was proved, and he agreed to pay $500 a month – at a time when he was worth $200 million.
He sidestepped Apple scandals involving stock options, manufacturing plant issues and tax avoidance. When a Gizmodo reporter got hold of an iPhone prototype, Jobs pursued him relentlessly.
“How much of an a****** do you have to be to be successful?” asks former Apple colleague Daniel Kottke.
And yet there’s no question he changed the game. Before Jobs, computers were unfriendly machines identified with business. Thanks to Jobs, they are ubiquitous, necessary and – perhaps most important – friendly.
In an early scene in the semifictional movie biography “Steve Jobs,” his character allows a young child to use an early Macintosh computer. The child takes to the machine like a fish to water.
More than 25 years later, he was introducing the iPad at a news conference.
“It’s phenomenal,” he told the audience, “to hold the Internet in your hand.”
With all due respect to World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee – or Albert Einstein, for that matter – that’s the world that Steve Jobs gave us.