Steve Jobs at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in 2007. Photo by Ben Stanfield.
When most of us think of innovators, we think of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, The Wright Brothers, or Eli Whitney. Rarely do we think of those from our own time. This past year, the world lost one of its greatest, modern innovators when Steve Jobs passed away last October as a result of pancreatic cancer. As with most legacies, a lot of time will have to pass before historians are able to put their academic finger on just how influential Jobs was to the world. Arguably, it is already conceded that Jobs’s innovative prowess has shifted humanity indefinitely. Yet what is most interesting is that Jobs was not a scientist, not a computer programmer, nor even a typical inventor. Steve Jobs was a “designer”. No matter what the project, whether it was the first Apple Computer, the MacBook, iPod or iPhone, the focus always remained on the user interface. Jobs sought out to alter the way humans interact with the devices they use. He succeeded in a way no one could have ever imagined, but what was the seed of his vision?
Part of that vision, at least, was an abstract one. A Shamanic peer through the looking glass of time from the counterculture of the ’60s into the tech-culture of the twenty-first century. Just like the Navaho Shaman who relied on peyote to take him to the spirit world, Jobs found LSD to be just the string he needed to draw the curtains from the window of Eisenhower ultra-realism into an imaginative state of thinking—one where inanimate objects come to life and interact with us, much like the iPad does today.
In a 2005 interview with New York Times reporter John Markoff, Jobs is quoted as saying, “Doing LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” Makoff was interviewing Jobs for his 2005 book, What the Doormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, and the message was an obvious one—technology, as we know it today, would not exist without the subculture that gave way to protests, challenging of authority, drug use, and experimentation. Steve Jobs’s admission to psychedelic drug use is the smoking gun to Makoff’s theory. Further to that, Jobs’ tongue-in-cheek jab at Bill Gates, “[He] would be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once,” solidifies his point. Recall the Apple mantra in the late nineties: “Think Different.”
Exactly how much influence marijuana, LSD, peyote or any other recreational drug has on one man’s inspiration for inventing a new product can never be accurately marked. Reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (or better yet, hearing the taped interviews which were played in parts on 60 Minutes the week after Jobs’ death, so one can hear it in Jobs’s voice itself) provides a qualitative insight into just how influential his experimental years were. It may be subjective, but the evidence is there. Without drug-culture, one has to wonder where our world would be today.