by Habbi 14 Jan 2019

It's hard to mention Steve Jobs without it being a cliché before even getting to the end of my sentence. It would be foolish to dismiss what he says at risk of not wanting to be put in a 'Jobs fan club box' and ignore the impact he's had.

Being defined in opposition to something, after all, makes you just as defined by it. So I'm sharing my notes and thoughts on an interview with Jobs known as the lost interview – as well as some thoughts I had after listening to his biography.

What Steve Jobs Has to Say About Ideas

an extract from the interview

And the problem with that is, is that there is just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.
– Steve Jobs

The extract highlights that a good idea is worth very little without it being executed well. I work as a product manager, which is literally working continuously in this process Jobs describes as magic. Executing ideas, my own and other peoples, and bringing them from our minds into the real world.

Further, Jobs famously considered himself living on the corner of arts and technology, which is exactly where I find myself as well – and I'm tasked with making the two play well together. It's hard to find others who share this junction since, by definition, most people are on either side from me.

They're either fully emerged in the creative industry, or they are computer engineers. I always take to those around this junction of technology/art, and it is therefore so incredibly valuable for me to watch arguably one of the world's best product managers, ever – talk about the worth of the work itself, and the process and the team and not just the craft that goes into it but the incredible value of bringing culture and perspective from elsewhere into making excellent products.

"take the best and
spread it around to everybody
so everybody grows up with better things"
– Jobs

Because the job is, to take the wires and the lines of code and turn it into something that makes sense to everyone. In order to achieve that you need people who understand how exactly that gets done, down to complicated hardware and software concerns – but it also needs to be brought into the human realm. It needs to be so good that anyone can use it, and ideally have this secret quality of bringing people up and feel special while they do it.

I love that he describes it as magic.

When Technology Becomes Invisible

The reason I love that, because I think there is a real relationship between magic and technology. A product that is executed well, becomes invisible. And when products are invisible, they look otherworldly or magical to us. It answers what exactly we are doing here – not how it's technically executed, but what is it and what is it good for?

The technology is to facilitate what the person wants to do, and that's it. I've never been of the school to love technology for technology's sake, it exists to enable something. It's a tool, like a screwdriver is a tool.

I've often been placed in the 'Apple Fangirl' camp, as someone who without question just loves all things Apple. That's not really true either. I use Apple products, yes. But the reason I like them is exactly because they don't make what I use them for about themselves, it's a canvas for me to use however I please, and to do what I want with it.

I use my phone to read and talk to my friends, and I use my laptop to work and write. I use my iPad to watch YouTube videos and play podcasts on. If you asked me what I did that day, I'd say "I talked to my friends, wrote this article, and watched a few videos". The platform and the technology aren't the point, what I'm doing is the point.

Artists record demos for their songs using the voice recorder on their iPhones, and share announcements as screenshots from the Notes app. The tools become invisible, we just see the announcement or hear the message. 

And that's exactly the point.

the difference between magic and technology is perspective
– My Mom

Invisible Feels Like Magic

We're not all addicted to our phone screens because the act of tapping is so fun. For better or worse, we're still doing something. We're seeing what our friends are up to, playing a game, listening to a song, reading a thought-provoking piece, interacting with celebrities, finding dates, sharing memes, or a part of ourselves. Our input method sure is the finger-tapping, but we don't tap for the sake of the tap.

An even better example of the invisible magic of technology is voice control. I'd challenge you to find a person of any age who won't get giddy going "Alexa, turn on the lights" –and the room becomes illuminated– for the first time. People are now using Harry Potter incantations like 'Lumos' and 'Nox' to turn the flashlight on and off their phones – and so it's therefore not a stretch to wonder, when is it really that we enter the realm of magic with technology?

Imagine trying to explain to somebody from the last century, or the one before, how all of this works. I'm pretty sure if you were in the 16th century doing exactly that "you see we all have this clump of metal and glass in our pockets; no no, we don't have to touch them; no, they are all connected; yes, to each other and all the information in the world; yes, completely invisibly; oh yes, they work anywhere in the world" – they'd throw you on the fire with the other sorcerers and witches.

Our technology, their magic.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
– The last of Clarke's three laws

Because the truth is, no one really likes fiddling with the cables and settings. Well, there obviously are the nerds who are into all that, but most of us just want it to work and we don't really care how. We'd much rather watch stuff on Apple TV or Chromecast then fiddling with HDMI cables and laptops.

We don't care about nodes or networking infrastructure, but we care tremendously if the internet is down. We don't care about how hard it is to sync live audio with a live performance, but when a live show doesn't have itself projected on giant screens across the stadium – we get pissed cos it's hard to see what's going on!

As someone who fell into tech without being particularly interested in it for its own sake, I found great inspiration in seeing that this was also how Jobs felt about his work. It's not about making an idea that's cool. It's about putting the best possible tools in the hands of as many people as possible for them to amplify their abilities to facilitate what they are aching to achieve – and the incredible level of craftsmanship that goes into that.

Like Jobs said, it's like magic.

tell me what I'm missing
Hrefna Helgadóttir (Habbi)