Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Steve Jobs: The Playboy interview

November 20, 2010: 1:38 PM ET

The magazine has re-released the piece it published in early 1985, just before Jobs was fired

Source: Playboy

Relations between Steve Jobs and John Sculley were already deteriorating when Jobs, then 29, sat down for a long interview with Playboy. The story was published in the magazine's February issue. Three months later, Sculley relieved Apple's co-founder of his duties as head of the Mac division.

Jobs puts on a brave face, but you get a feeling toward the end of the interview that he sensed his days at Apple (AAPL) might be numbered.

JOBS: There's an old Hindu saying that comes into my mind occasionally: "For the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you." As I'm going to be 30 in February, the thought has crossed my mind.

PLAYBOY: And?

JOBS: And I'm not sure. I'll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I'll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I'm not there, but I'll always come back. And that's what I may try to do.

The key thing to remember about me is that I'm still a student. I'm still in boot camp. If anyone is reading any of my thoughts, I'd keep that in mind. Don't take it all too seriously. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you've done and whoever you were and throw them away. What are we, anyway? Most of what we think we are is just a collection of likes and dislikes, habits, patterns. At the core of what we are is our values, and what decisions and actions we make reflect those values. That is why it's hard doing interviews and being visible: As you are growing and changing, the more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you that it thinks you are, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to go, "Bye. I have to go. I'm going crazy and I'm getting out of here." And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.

You can read the rest of the interview here. Its preceded by a long preamble that describes Apple as a "giant firm with 1.4 billion dollars in revenues in 1984." Apple's revenues in 2010 topped $65 billion.

Below: Jobs explains how a computer works in terms a 1985-era Playboy reader can understand.

PLAYBOY: Maybe we should pause and get your definition of what a computer is. How do they work?

JOBS: Computers are actually pretty simple. We're sitting here on a bench in this cafe [for this part of the Interview]. Let's assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instructions. I might say, "Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward ..." and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this cafe, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I'd think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. That's exactly what a computer does. It takes these very, very simple-minded instructions—"Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it's greater than this other number"—but executes them at a rate of, let's say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.

That's a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don't have to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don't have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don't have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh—but you asked [laughs].

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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