Forces That Flattened the World

The Beggining

It all started when Steve Jobs became more and more interested in Steve Wozniak progress on a new computer design. He started to get involve and after a few months, he convinced Woz to found a company to sell his computer to other hobbyists. He had understood that there were hundreds of software hobbyist out there, who, unlike Woz, was not interested in building a machine, but rather in using it for programming.

So, on April 1, 1976, Apple was born. The name “Apple Computer” was chosen because they hadn’t found anything better and because it was Steve’s favorite food at the time (he was a fruitarian). Jobs and Wozniak got each a share of 45% while the remaining 10% went to Ron Wayne, an Atari engineer who had given a hand to the duo. The original capital was quite modest: Steve had come up with $500 by selling his Volkswagen while Woz had brought another $500 by selling his HP calculator.

Woz started working on the design of the Apple II. The Apple II was a real breakthrough in personal computer design: among other things, its operating system would load automatically and it didn’t require a fan (Jobs hated fans) because of a revolutionary new type of power supply - but, most of all, it could do a lot more than its rivals with an incredibly lower number of components, thanks to Woz’s genius.

Apple’s presence at the West Coast Computer Faire was a great success. The company received 300 orders for Apple IIs on the show, twice as much as the total number of Apple Is sold. This was only the beginning.

By January of 1978, Apple was valued $3,000,000. The Board of Directors had been extended to new investors: in addition to Markkula (who had originally invested $250,000), there were the renowned venture capitalists arthur Rock ($57,600), Don Valentine ($150,000), and the Venrock firm (the venture capitalism agency of the Rockefeller family), which had put in $288,000. Sales of the Apple II went through the roof: 2,500 were sold in 1977, 8,000 in 1978 and up to 35,000 in 1979, producing $47 million in revenue for the 2-year old company. Apple became the company of personal computers. In fact, there were no personal computers on the market other than the Apple II.

In December of that same year, Apple was allowed to make a visit that changed Steve’s life and the future of computing as well. In return of the investment agreement with Xerox, a little team from Apple including Steve and a few programmers like Bill Atkinson and Rich Page, as well as the head of the Lisa Project John Couch, would be given a tour of the Xerox’s PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). The PARC was at the time the Land of Oz of computer development. The researchers working there had invented what would change the experience of computing forever: the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and the mouse (as well as Ethernet, the laser printer and a few more amazing achievements). The GUI basically is the metaphor of the desktop applied to computing. It is at PARC that the concepts of point-&-click, nested folders filled with files, windows with elevators, copy-&-paste were invented, and actually implemented in a fully working computer environment, SmallTalk, which ran on a prototype Xerox Alto computer.

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What was going on at the PARC was not entirely secret, as there were many professors form the Stanford campus -on which the building was located- who had been given a similar tour, and articles about the GUI had been written in the specialized press, but the tour given to Apple that day was of major importance for at least 2 reasons:

1) it proved Apple’s engineers, Bill Atkinson in particular, that their dreams about “a more graphical way to do things” could be materialized; it inspired them in letting them think that making a GUI work was actually possible.

2) it attracted Steve’s attention to the GUI. It was like a bolt of lightning to him, and what made the difference with Xerox’s stubborn executives. He would later say about it:

“Within 10 minutes, it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday.”
(from "Triumph of the Nerds")

He decided that this was the way to go for Apple, or more precisely, for the Lisa project. 100 engineers were hired for the project alone, but everything didn’t go as smoothly as planned. To begin with, there were big tensions between Apple’s three divisions: the Apple II group, which was considered an uncreative group, the Apple III group, which was still working on a project that had been launched in late ’78, and finally the superior Lisa group. Plus, the list of features that were to be added to the Lisa was growing so fast that the original goal of a $2,000 office computer was completely forgotten. Lisa’s price tag was nearing $10,000, as expensive as the Alto!

On December 12, 1980, Apple went public with a success no company had experienced since Ford’s own IPO in the 50s. Steve, who owned $7.5 million of Apple stocks, was worth $217.5 million by the end of the day. He became one of the richest self-made men in America.

It made Apple the king of personal computing until IBM entered the market in 1981. The name of IBM was so trusted in business that it quickly became a standard. “You can’t be fired for buying an IBM” was the motto in most companies’ IT department.

This historic event of computers created a spark not only to the people of America but also to some elite people who live in the developing countries like Berlin, India and China. The people of Berlin, was the first country who immediately respond to this new challenge and realize that only by liberating individuals would allow them to attain economic improvements.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 unleashed forces that ultimately liberated all the captive people of the Soviet Empire. But it actually did so much more. It tipped the balance of power across the world toward those advocating democratic, consensual, free-market-oriented governance, and away from those advocating authoritarian rule with centrally planned economies.

For many others, it was a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The fall of the Berlin wall didn’t just help flatten the alternatives to free-market capitalism and unlock enormous pent-up energies for hundreds of millions of people like India, Brazil, China and the former Soviet Empire. It also allowed us to think about the world differently-to see it as more of a seamless whole.

Yes the world became a better place to live in after 11/9 because each outbreak of freedom stimulated another outbreak and that process in and of itself had a flattening effect across societies, strengthening those below and weakening those above.

Pioneering the first IBM PC (Personal Computer) hit the markets in 1981. The first version of Windows Operating System launched in 1985, and the breakthrough version that made IBM PC’s much more user friendly-Windows 3.0-Shipped on May 22, 1990. The rise of the Windows-enabled PC, which really popularized personnel computing, eliminated another hugely important barrier: The limit on the amount of information that any single individual could amass, author, manipulate and define.

Overtime the Apple-IBM-Windows revolution enabled the digital representation of all the important forms of expression-words, music, numeric data, maps, photographs, and eventually voice and video. It is impossible to exaggerate how important this was to the flattening of the world. The rise of the Windows-enabled PC, combined with the fall of the wall, set in motion the whole flattening process. To be sure men and women have long been authoring their own content, beginning with drawings on cave walls up through the type writer. But the Windows-enabled PC’s and Apples made it possible for individuals to author their own content right from their desktops in digital form. And those last three words are critical. Because once people could author their own content in digital form-in the form of computer bits and bytes-they could manipulate it on computer screens in ways that made individuals so much more productive. And with the steady advances in telecommunications, they would soon be able to disseminate their own digital content in so many new ways to so many people. Think of what one person can do with pen and paper. Think of what one person can do with typewriter. And then think of what person can now do with PC.

The more establish Windows became as the primary operating system, the more programmers went out and wrote applications for rich-world business to put on their computers, so they could do lots of new and different business tasks, which started to enhance productivity even more. Tens of millions of people around the world became programmers to make the PC do whatever they wanted in their own languages.

In the same period, some people other than scientists started to discover that if they bought a PC and a dial-up modem, they could connect their PC to their telephones and send e-mails through private networks. Another factor that some people discovered was if they bought a network card, cables and a hub they could create networks within their corporate world. The result was an enormous growth of people communicating with people inside the company and as time passed by more and more exciting new things this people crave for: Local chat, exchanging files, and connecting custom applications to servers. It was a basic platform that started a global information revolution.

This basic platform was constrained by too many architectural limits. There was a missing infrastructure: The Internet. With seemingly magical transmission protocols that can connect everyone and everything.

Nevertheless, the birth of computers led to huge advance in personal empowerment. This level of connectivity surely help to put the nail in the coffin of communism, because the very tools that were being used to improve productivity in the West (PC, fax, modem, networks), even though much scarcer in the East, vastly improve horizontal person-to-person communication there, to the determinant of top-down Communist system.

There was a discordant note in this exciting new era. One person had a different narrative of how the world had change. His name was Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden came to see the United States as evil. He did have an ideological alternative to free-market capitalism-political Islam. He did not feel defeated by the end of the Soviet Union; he felt emboldened by it. He did not feel attracted to the widened playing field; he felt repelled by it. And he was not alone. A world away, in Muslim lands, many thought bin Laden and his comrades had bought down the Soviet Empire and the Wall through religious zeal, and millions of them were inspired to upload the past.

The evolution of our era has created an exact opposite of what we think global trust.


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