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The years of study, thinking, and experimentation by many talented people on the Macintosh project—and elsewhere—have gone largely unreported, though they led to the breakthroughs that made the Macintosh and the systems that have been built since its introduction so much of an improvement over what went before. Against this complex reality we have the powerful mythological image of Jobs drinking from a Well Of All Knowledge, having an "aha!" experience and coming back at full cry to Apple to create a fantastic project. This scenario is familiar—it parallels that of Archimedes jumping naked out of his bath crying "Eureka!" and a dozen other stories. It inverts Edison’s observation that "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." When Cringely reported in his InfoWorld column for 4 April 1994 that his book was being made into a TV miniseries, he crowed that it represented "the ultimate triumph of style over substance" One can admire his candor while deploring his scholarship and envying his earnings. 2,400 years ago the historian Thucydides had a higher calling, "My history has been composed to be an everlasting possession, not the showpiece of an hour." Today we get shows that air for an hour.
Along with oversimplification, using secondary sources, being weak on background, a lack of attention to detail, getting taken in by the halo effect, and a general attitude problem among some of the people who have reported on the history of technology, there has been a belief in things happening by magic. Intense intellectual effort and in-depth technical expertise vanish to be replaced by tales of inspiration and guesswork. The legend tells us that scholarship and hard work are not necessary in order to usher in a new age. Yet the same legends speak with awe of the 80+ hour-per-week grind of the faithful, driven employees. What were they doing all those hours? Drop out, turn on, assume the lotus position, eat jelly beans, have pizza-and-beer parties and fortune will surely follow, sing the storytellers. The truth lies elsewhere.
- "Holes In The Histories," Jef Raskin (March 9, 1943 - February 26, 2005), http://jef.raskincenter.org/published/holes.html
File Name: holes_in_histories_jef_raskin
Post Date: March 1, 2005 at 6:20 PM CST; March 2, 2005 at 0020 GMT