You’re well-known as being a technological optimist. Do you still feel as hopeful about what technology has done for us as a culture as you did, say, twenty years ago?
Oh, yeah. I think it’s brought the world a lot closer together, and will continue to do that. There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything. The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television — but then, again, television, at its best, is magnificent.
Why do you call television the most corrosive of technology you’ve ever seen?
Because the average American watches five hours a day of television, and television is a passive medium. Television doesn’t turn your brain on. Or, television can be used to turn your brain off, and that’s what it’s mostly used for. And that’s a wonderful thing sometimes — but not for five hours a day.
What I had been hoping to do was catch a glimpse of what’s there when you pull back all those layers. What’s under there is innovation, but where does it come from? I had given up on getting an answer to this question when I made a jokey observation that before long somebody would probably start making white headphones so that people carrying knockoffs and tape players could fool the world into thinking they had trendy iPods.
Jobs shook his head. ”But then you meet the girl, and she says, ‘Let me see what’s on your iPod.’ You pull out a tape player, and she walks away.” This was an unanticipated, and surprisingly persuasive, response.