Jobs, Steve - An interview with Daniel Kottke
Type of Spiritual Experience
Daniel Kottke was one of Apple's first employees, assembling the company's earliest kit computers with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in a California kitchen. In 1974, Jobs and Kottke backpacked across India in search of themselves.
A description of the experience
Avi: Could you tell us a bit about that trip to India.
Daniel: That trip came about because Steve and I both got copies of 'Be Here Now' at the same time. 'Be Here Now' was a breakthrough book, kind of like the psychedelic culture of America goes to India looking for holy men. That's what 'Be Here Now' represented. They rushed it into print, it came out quite early in 1972. It was a brand new story, and I had never seen anything like that and it just completely blew me away..... I had never even been exposed to Eastern literature at all; I knew nothing about Buddhism, philosophy, that kind of thing.
Avi: By Ram Dass, right?
Daniel: Yes, Richard Alpert. ......
Avi: So you both read 'Be Here Now'?
Daniel: Yes. We both got it in the book store at Reed College. It was such an amazing thing: there was lots to talk about. I can remember asking people, "Well this is very interesting; what else should I read next?" I really had no idea. The next book that showed up was 'Autobiography of a Yogi', which is a very compelling book. I had never seen anything like it, even though it was from the Fifties. That was Paramhansa Yogananada. Very readable book. And then the next one was 'Ramakrishna and his Disciples'. And now we're like in India!
This is the Indian current, right? And then it was Aurobindo and Sai Baba and Ramana Maharshi, right? So that was the genesis of my trick to India with Steve. We had read all these books. Robert Friedland was the head of the student body at Reed and he was part of the 'Be Here Now' scene. I don't even know how he got hooked up with them but he was. Robert had gone to India the previous year in 1971 just before the book came out. And there was a big scene of American hippies in India around Neem Karoli Baba. And it was Robert who told us we should go, and it was the Kumbh Mela.
Robert alone telling us that wouldn't have been quite enough for us to go; the fact that Robert gave us personal references of where to stay in New Delhi, that helped a lot. And add the fact that there was a Kumbh Mela - we were going! Yet still I didn't have any money. It was really Steve, who had now dropped out of Reed and he was earning money at Atari, he had money for a ticket. So Steve says to me, "We should go to India; Robert's fixed us up and it's the Kumbh Mela." And I said, "That sounds great. I don't have any money!"
And Steve said, "Well, I'll lend you the money for the ticket." And I said, "All right!" And that was the trip. ......
Avi: So did that trip change you both in a major way or was it a disappointment or a widening experience?
Daniel: It was a widening experience............We went to ashrams. The Neem Karoli ashram was completely deserted, so that was a little bit of a disappointment. We went and found Haidakhan Baba who was like a Paul Bunyan. He's like this mythical reincarnating avatar you've probably heard of called Hariakhan Baba.
Avi: Did the availability of Psychedelics trigger your technological creativity?
Daniel: Going back to the Sixties LSD definitely had an influence on my world view and Steve Jobs has been quite outspoken about the value of LSD on the evolution of his thinking. And interestingly Woz definitely never took psychedelics; he may have never even smoked pot. But he's a very unusual case; he's a mutant in a sense. I think the effect of psychedelics on the general culture is well acknowledged. There's a whole shelf full of books: 'What the Dormouse Said', John Markoff's book, that's all about psychedelics and technology. .....................
Avi: What was Steve Job's unique contribution to Apple?
Daniel: Between Woz and Jobs, Woz was the inventor. Steve Jobs was the marketing and design person. Even to look back at the Apple II that was a lot about product design. That was kind of the seeds of Steve Jobs developing his design talents with the lightweight plastic case, even though it was never intended as anything portable.
The Apple I came right out of the Home Brew Computer Club. Woz wanted something he could bring to the computer club and show off to his friends, and portability was not even a factor except that they were comparing it with big machines that were not going to be portable. The previous generation depended on a big, heavy teletype to interface to the computer and there was no way any of that was portable. So that was what was fueling the excitement back in the Seventies.
So then it comes to the Apple II and it was definitely Steve Jobs' idea. The Altairs, the Cromemcos, all of that generation were heavy metal boxes.
It was brilliant of Steve to find Rod Holt to make a switching power supply, which was a lightweight power supply with no big heavy transformers, and to put the plastic case on it.
So you could actually take the Apple II under your arm and carry it somewhere. We never really advertised that but it was part of the appeal. And Steve never forgot that.
You can trace the portability aspect into the Macintosh, which had a handle built right into it; that was pretty obvious. Steve also paid a lot of attention to and took a lot of inspiration from Hartmut Esslinger, the founder of Frog Design. The mouse for the Lisa was by Frog Design and they were mocking up Macintosh cases for us in 1982.
Then Steve left Apple and Apple lost its way into a profusion of beige boxes.
If you remember the history the next big thing on the landscape was the Macintosh IIcx. That was a highly modular, highly manufacturable computer and that was a landmark. But it wasn't about portability and it wasn't about industrial design, it was about manufacturability. At the same time Compaq was a big success making the PC highly manufacturable and highly modular, and so the Mac IIcx was kind of Apple's answer to that.
But then the next wave was when Steve came back to Apple and now it was the iMac, which had the bubble-shaped plastic. And that was designed by Jonathan Ive, and Steve had spotted Jonathan Ive. Jonathan Ive was already on the staff at Apple when Steve came to Apple. So Steve just saw a good thing and latched onto it.
Steve's a self-taught guy. But Woz didn't have that kind of vision.
Woz was more about making do with parts; it's all about functionality.
Steve Jobs brought the design aspect to it.