“This Stuff Doesn’t Change The World. It Really Doesn’t”

In a 1993 Wired interview conducted by Gary Wolf, Steve Jobs, who was then doing his walkabout at NeXT, spoke cautiously about the World Wide Web. He thought it would be great for commerce but maybe not landscape-altering in essential ways. He was right in that all the connectivity and information hasn’t stopped wars or thinned the ranks of ignorant politicians.

One interesting thing that Jobs said was that the Web wouldn’t have the same awesome immediate impact that radio and TV had, that it would creep up on people. I think that’s true. Because the Web is controlled to a good extent by users, its wow factor is revealed incrementally, as people continue to tinker with it and grow it out. Ultimately, it will have much greater consequence for change than earlier technologies that made a bigger initial splash but were hampered by central control. An excerpt from the Q&A:

“What’s the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?

Steve Jobs: The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.

That’s going to break people’s hearts.

Steve Jobs: I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light – that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.

The Web is going to be very important. Is it going to be a life-changing event for millions of people? No. I mean, maybe. But it’s not an assured Yes at this point. And it’ll probably creep up on people.

It’s certainly not going to be like the first time somebody saw a television. It’s certainly not going to be as profound as when someone in Nebraska first heard a radio broadcast. It’s not going to be that profound.

Then how will the Web impact our society?

Steve Jobs: We live in an information economy, but I don’t believe we live in an information society. People are thinking less than they used to. It’s primarily because of television. People are reading less and they’re certainly thinking less. So, I don’t see most people using the Web to get more information. We’re already in information overload. No matter how much information the Web can dish out, most people get far more information than they can assimilate anyway.”


The William Morris Agency gets NeXT computers in 1990:


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