Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy
Andrew Marszal reviews a new BBC documentary about Steve Jobs, which asks how important Californian hippy culture was to the late Apple co-founder's success.
Many people struggle when it comes to finding superlatives grand enough for Steve Jobs. Visionary comes up often enough. One contributor to tonight’s documentary called him a messiah, which was frankly a bit much. Up against such high praise, the tag-line Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy (BBC Two) borders on insulting.
Presenter Evan Davis, taking a break from telling people why their start-ups won’t work in Dragon’s Den, was clearly enamoured with his subject, whose undoubtedly had. Equally ecstatic in their praise were most of the people he interviewed, with Stephen Fry in particular lost describing a world of “slide, and glide, and flow, and smoothness and pleasure” before it emerged he was talking about Jobs’s computers.
Fortunately before the hero worship went into overdrive, Davis found in Jobs’s co-founder Steve Wozniak somebody who didn’t think Jobs was quite the greatest mind of our times. In fact, Wozniak pointed out, his own mind was the more technically brilliant of the pair – Lennon to Jobs’s McCartney – but Jobs at least “knew how to take it to the public”. That certainly came in handy.
But “billion dollar hippy” is more than a failed superlative – it represents Davis’s belief that the Californian hippy counter-culture in which Jobs grew up not just influenced his success, but actually brought it about.
The programme describes how Jobs’s beautiful, must-have modern gizmos were inspired by his interests in spirituality, meditation and LSD – not to mention nirvana-inducing apples (he and a friend fasted on the fruit variety one summer in a quest for spiritual enlightenment, though it evidently turned out to be more of a successful corporate branding session.) There were even photos of Jobs working barefoot on the floor of his ultra-ultra-minimalist house to prove the centrality of all this.
More intriguing however were the tales of Jobs – suited and booted with a corporate combover after making his first billion with the Apple 2 computer by 1980 – scaring the living daylights out of co-workers, laying off staff by the droves and even sacking some of them in the course of twenty-second elevator rides. The stairs must have been popular at Apple Inc. in those days.
Those LSD trips may have been fun, but the ruthless Jobs, who we learnt tricked Wozniak into writing code for an Atari computer game but pocketed the money himself, stands out from the story much more than the hippy Jobs. (And no wonder Wozniak isn’t first in line to praise his co-founder – “I did cry, quite a bit actually, when I read [about the Atari payment] in the book”.)
In other words, we see Jobs as an aggressive, profit-seeking CEO. But a billion-dollar, visionary and (dare I say it?) messianic one at that