“There have been parallels, individuals who’ve made great leaps foward in understanding–Galileo, Newton, Stephen Hawking–these men. . . .”
–Mulder, The X-Files, 5th season finale, emphasis mine
Several weeks ago I watched (yes, really) the dazzling made-for-TV docu-drama Pirates of Silicon Valley, about the rise and fall of Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) and the rise and rise of Bill Gates (Anthony Michael Hall–remember him?), respective men behind Apple and Microsoft. Its primary initial effect was to make me want to stay the hell away from computers, which may explain the unnaturally long lapse between issues. Around this same time, I was reading a book of my mom’s called Young Men With Unlimited Capital, by John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and some other guy, which is about how the first two, both venture capitalists, put up the money, and then did a lot of the dirty work, for Woodstock. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about rich white guys, who are generally a group I try to ignore. Consequently, I do not promise that this will be at all coherent. (But what am I apologizing for? This is my damn e-mail journal).
Near the beginning of Pirates, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) narrowly escape being teargassed at some Vietnam (?) demonstration at UC Berkeley, and Jobs says to Woz, “Those guys think they’re revolutionaries–they’re not–we’re revolutionaries.” And so the two of them go blundering on with their machines and their computers built inside wooden boxes, working out of Jobs’s parents’ garage and totally oblivious to how foolish they’re being. Bill Gates and his cronies are doing the same thing, only with software. It’s the kind of story America is supposed to love: guys bumbling about in the basement suddenly figure it out, and, after years of hard work, strike it rich.
One might say that Roberts and Rosenman are the opposite of this story, although they also thought of themselves as revolutionary, in a way. But they started out with a lot of dough and proceeded to sink almost all of it into that mudhole which has somehow become a defining generational event. (Sorry, I didn’t mean that as entirely insulting–just a knee-jerk reaction to all things Boomeresque–the book gives you the impression that it was actually quite a feat).
What struck me most about all these men–Jobs, Gates, Roberts, and Rosenman–however, was how damned sure of themselves they were, and what incredible jerks they were at times along the way (the latter two much less than the former two, but then, I was getting their side of the story). It is enough to make one think that the prevailing characteristic of genius, or of success, is not just tunnel vision, but also the inability to conceive of yourself as anything but right–and thus it is that several young men took over the world, or at least Max Yasgur’s farm.
There are flaws in this thinking, but I’m not going to point them out. I end with an anecdote:
A group of about a dozen is dining in a small Italian restaurant. A waitress, in her early or mid teens, leaves for the kitchen, and a man explains to some of the group that she is the daughter of the owners. “But she’s just gotten really shy in the past year for some reason,” he says, bemused. Three of the group are young women themselves, college-educated, in their early twenties. “Yeah,” they all say knowingly, simultaneously, and then look at each other and at the rest of the table, a look of almost shock on their faces–the shock of recognition, and the shock that none of the other people at the table quite seem to grasp it. “Does that happy, really?” the man asks. They nod. “We should get her a copy of Reviving Ophelia,” one says.