Steve Jobs on Telegraph and Telephone

As you all know, we have lost the greatest inventor of our time. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and creator of the Mac, iPhone and iPad has passed away. Like many, I've been reading a lot about Jobs' inspiring journey. There's a particular interview with him by Playboy that reminds me on how different he sees the world compare to the rest of us.

When answering a question on why would someone take the leap of faith and buy a 3000 dollar Macintosh, he said this.

PB: Then for now, aren't you asking home-computer buyers to invest $3000 in what is essentially an act of faith?

SJ: In the future, it won't be an act of faith. The hard part of what we're up against now is that people ask you about specifics and you can't tell them. A hundred years ago, if somebody had asked Alexander Graham Bell, "What are you cooing to be able to do with a telephone?" he wouldn't have been able to tell him the ways the telephone would affect the world.

He didn't know that people would use the telephone to call up and find out what movies were playing that night or to order some groceries or call a relative on the other side of the globe. But remember that the first public telegraph was inaugurated in 1844. It was an amazing breakthrough in communications. You could actually send messages from New York to San Francisco in an afternoon.

People talked about putting a telegraph on every desk in America to improve productivity. But it wouldn't have worked. It required that people learn from this whole sequence of strange incantations, Morse code, dots and dashes, to use the telegraph. It took about 40 hours to learn. The majority of people would never learn how to use it.

So fortunately, in the 1870s, Bell filed the patents for the telephone. It performed basically the same function as the telegraph but people already knew how to use it. Also, the neatest thing about it was that besides allowing you to communicate with just words, it allowed you to sing.

PB: Meaning what?

SJ: It allowed you to intone your words with meaning beyond the simple linguistics. And we're in the same situation today. Some people are saying that we ought to put an IBM PC on every desk in America to improve productivity. It won't work. The special incantations you have to learn this time are the "slash q-zs" and things like that.

The manual for WordStar, the most popular word-processing program, is 400 pages thick. To write a novel, you have to read a novel––one that reads like a mystery to most people. They're not going to learn slash q-z any more than they're going to learn Morse code.

That is what Macintosh is all about. It's the first "telephone" of our industry. And, besides that, the neatest thing about it, to me, is that the Macintosh lets you sing the way the telephone did. you don't simply communicate words, you have special print styles and the ability to draw and add pictures to express yourself.

If I were to analyze why telephone is such a big leap forward compared to telegraph, I probably would talk about how it is much more efficient and faster because you are transmitting voice messages instead of just dashes and dots. Or I could say how it's more usable and easily adoptable since there's practically no learning curve.

But Steve Jobs sees the potential of telephone way beyond the specifications (speed) or even the experience of using it. He realized that the fact telephone is able to transmit our voice, not just words but the tone too, changes everything. This means that we are able to express ourselves when transmitting our messages. We are not just sending words over copper wires but also our own interpretation, touch and take on the meaning of our words.

If there's only one thing I could learn from Steve, it would be his insight, vision and foresight on how technology can change our lives. It is sad that such a great visionary had his time here cut short but what he did with it makes all of us feel so insignificant.

Thank you for everything, Steve. I will try to stay hungry and foolish.