The Woz in Auckland

It started with a Facebook post on our program group page.

“My boss wants me to put together a list of 10-12 BU students…”

I looked up the speaker at the event. I had heard of him of course, but I was only vaguely aware of what he did. After some googling, I thought, why not? When else was I going to see Steve Wozniak speak for free?

The first thing I noticed was the amount of nerdy testosterone that slowly filled the theater with nervous excitement. Studying at a college that boasts a 60% female population, I haven’t seen my gender visibly outnumbered in a while. It amused me to no end.

When the Woz finally walked on stage in his black outfit and neon sneakers, the nearly full theater erupted in applause. Sitting in front of a Think Inc. (Smart answers to BIG questions) banner, he turned to the moderator, ready to start explaining his life and philosophy. He has been there before. This is, quite literally, his job.

The nearly full theater sat silent and at attention as Steve Wozniak recited his stories.
The nearly full theater sat silent and at attention as Steve Wozniak recited his stories.

Yes, his words were clearly rehearsed and there were moments that the moderator had trouble steering the conversation, but that didn’t bother me that much. Wozniak presented himself like an enthusiastic grandfather. You know the type: The kind that lights up at the sight of their grandchildren, eager to tell the stories they’ve told a thousand times before, hungry to see the wonder and amazement in their eyes, keen to pass on the well-learnt lessons of their long life…

He recounted why he created computers, talking about ones and zeroes, microchips and processors like they were pieces of unfathomable beauty. Marveling at his own genius, he admitted that he doesn’t understand how he did it all.

“There was magic pouring out of my ears for about ten years,” he said, retracing steps that he had no doubt walked many times before.

It many ways he reminded me of Nikola Tesla. Both were/are idealists. They believed in creating technology to help advance humanity. Money was never on their mind. Tesla wanted to find a method to give electricity away for free. The Woz really did give away his design of the first personal computer, the Apple I.

“I wanted to be part of a revolution,” Wozniak explained.

Yet in a capitalist society, money was always going to come into play at some point. Tesla had Thomas Edison to sell his inventions. Wozniak had Steve Jobs.

“[In the beginning], once a year Steve would come around and make what I did into money,” the Woz joked, sparking a fair amount of laughter.

But unlike Tesla and Edison who’s rivalry, especially during the war over A/C and D/C electricity, has gone down in history, Woz and Jobs were friends until the end…at least according to Wozniak. This inventor doesn’t believe in making enemies. What’s the point?

But now his inventive spirit has left him, he said.

“I’m not a genius now except in making people think I’m one.” That joke received even more laughter.

Wozniak stood to address the questioners during the Q&A.
Wozniak stood to address the questioners during the Q&A.

Instead, nowadays he seems to focus on his other passion: Education. He spoke in great length about the injustices in the education system in America—about how one teacher, one student never fails and that the problem now is that teachers just don’t have the time or money to give everyone personal attention. He waxed on about his dream of technology someday solving this problem. He believes that with AI, every student could have their very own personal teacher. With that, the sky’s the limit. (See what I mean about idealist?)

The Q & A at the end livened him up, bringing some spontaneity to his speeches. Inspirational but borderline naïve, he rambled on about the positive influence of randomness and the negative, overbearing force of Facebook, Google, and even Apple. You could tell how enthusiastic and keen he was to imprint on everyone his grandfatherly wisdom. Out of his age and element in regards to today’s technology, he is still full of knowledge and is desperate to pass it on.

I’m glad I decided to see him.


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