Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine

An Apple computer was part of my childhood during the mid seventies and throughout my high school years. Like many others, I remember playing those bright and primitive games, similar to Atari on my Apple II. I typed my first stories on it even though I had no gift for computers or science. Typing was not a chore, creativity felt liquid and the act of pushing the keyboard was simply fun to do.

Because I liked Apple so much, I thought about the founders Steve Jobs and Wozniak as homegrown creators, making computers in their home garage. I did not think of Apple as a company in the corporate sense, only as two friends making something as mad scientists. As naive as this was, perhaps there is a shred of truth here. After all, the early Apples were not boxy, they had rounded edges. And because they were so easy to use, they seemed almost like a friend, or at least a machine with a semblance of sympathy. 

"Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine"  a documentary by Alex Gibney is about Jobs, the premier creator of Apple Computer.

The initial scenes are filmed from 2011, at Jobs' passing from cancer. Lines of people hurl white roses at Apple stores around the world and take out their iPhones to display a candle. Hoards of people are moved to tears. His mourning was akin to the Beatles. Was Jobs, a techno John Lennon of sorts?

The answer is a resounding no, but he did have an artist's eye in making computers easy to use and live with.

Jobs started as a counterculture boy with an interest in buddhism and literature. He met Wozniak at Hewlett Packard and they made their own simple blue square devices capable of mimicking phone calls and filching from AT&T. 

Afterwords, Jobs went to Atari and constructed the paddle game, Breakout. He had the idea that computers could be intimate and personal, either a tool or perhaps a companion.

Despite his tech verve, Jobs felt a kind of outlier. He went to India. Back in California he met with Kobun, a monk, who said he was too smart. 

Apple, the company, was born. The film traces Jobs' early days and his rise. Gradually, he gets more and more rigid and powerful. He loses Apple and then returns to it ten years later, saving it from dissolution. 

Jarring it is to learn of Jobs' harsh and icy selfishness. When he learns of being a father, he storms out and takes his girlfriend Chrisann to court, relenting only after a paternity test. Having no interest in fatherhood, he names his new computer Lisa, after his daughter.

Decades later, enamored of the Sony Walkman, Jobs has the idea for a small music machine.

The iPod arrives, then the iPhone. Both are small very personal machines that at times seem to carress the hand.

Sadly, in the film, Jobs is vengeful and authoritarian, without mercy. During the chance accident of a iPhone left behind, a factory worker in China kills himself in shame and a tech reporter is threatened by the inventor when he discovers a lost prototype of the iPhone 4 in a bar. Sent by Apple, a security force invades the writer's home.

One gets the feeling that Jobs immerses himself in the universe of the electronic device for security. 
In life, Steve Jobs took the cold neutrality of zen to the extreme. He eschewed the public and the human, in his pursuit of making the perfect tech machine, a prosthetic bridge between art design and digital utility. Indeed as Alex Gibney intones in a voiceover, it is no mistake that when one first spies an iPhone, there is a black reflective surface. 

We face ourselves.

Difficult to watch, but strikingly compelling and seductive like Job's own products, "The Man In the Machine" might prove as toxic as a computer virus to die hard fans, but it makes a vivid study, as poetic in detail as it is darkly bitten with humor in showing this inventor with a charisma as purposefully imagined as his cupid-like and  infectious devices.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

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