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Looking Back: Steve Jobs in National Geographic

Apple co-founder and computer-age visionary Steve Jobs died this week after a long bout with cancer. It’s no overstatement to say that the 56-year-old Californian transformed how we live, from the way we communicate to the way we share and consume media.

Jobs changed the world from Silicon Valley, whose fortunes and rise mirrored his own. Back in 1982, National Geographic magazine chronicled the burgeoning tech hub in “High Tech, High Risk, and High Life in Silicon Valley,” recognizing that the “former prune patch an hour’s drive south of San Francisco” was becoming the “heartland of an electronics revolution that may prove as far-reaching as the industrial revolution of the 19th century … Silicon Valley may well be a glimpse of a computer-and-communications culture that is the prototype of the future.”

He may be hard to recognize without a black mock turtleneck, but that's 27-year-old Steve Jobs on the motorcycle. Photo by Charles O'Rear.

That story also contained prescient words about Jobs. Even then, it was clear that his distinctive taste—and taste for distinctions—was firmly in place:

“We’d rather call the Apple a personal than a home computer.”

So was his role as corporate, revenge-of-the-nerds idol:

Jobs has become a potent role model for a new breed of bright kids who are writing and selling software programs and, with their arcane computer skills, gaining the prestige formerly tasted only by the high-school football team.

But the most fun reason to read about Jobs in an old National Geographic? It might be to see a bearded, booted young man zooming about on a boss 1966 BMW motorcycle.

“Although Jobs drives the requisite Mercedes,” adds the article, “success seems not to have spoiled the first folk hero of the computer age. In plaid shirt and jeans, he still prefers, as a friend said, ‘to drive his motorcycle to my place, sit around and drink wine, and talk about what we’re going to do when we grow up.’”

Jeremy Berlin is an editor at National Geographic magazine.


  1. Rama Krishna
    October 18, 2011, 2:16 am

    Imagine what Steve Jobs would contribute in a world without profit culture.When we appreciate an ‘Apple’, lets also appreciate countless technicians, scientists and human labor around the world who made it possible. Any field progresses frm the edges/fringes and not frm the centre of it. Those who take things forward do it so basing on all the collective information contributed by many many people. Contributions of Apple is towards the profit oriented consumer world. Hence the recognition, fame, whereas the contribution of scientists who developed life saving vaccines are hardly mentioned. Nicola Tesla died bankrupt and no one talks about it. Such is our culture. There is a difference between who actually invent things and who take science for a ride. Steve is more of a marketing man than a some kind of scientist who ‘changed our lives.’ Think of the abused child workers and those who commited suicides in apple sweatshops in China. What change did he bring in their lives? Capitalism makes these people heroes, not their vision. I respect and ‘miss’ Steve Jobs just so much the same as thousands of people who died out of starvation in Africa and elsewhere in wars. Commodity fetishism is not changing our lives.

  2. Felix Lee
    South Africa
    October 16, 2011, 5:55 am

    Steve Jobs, definitely did a better job than many others. Changed how we all lived today, and his visions are still clearly light years ahead of most. RIP.

  3. Bharatesh
    October 15, 2011, 8:10 am

    God was in need of iPhone, so he called u, R.I.P Steeve.

  4. kanha
    October 15, 2011, 6:53 am

    it was an great opportunity to the apple co. that he have got steve jobs lik person whose creations to ipod, iphone and the laptop was very good and fomous in world wide.

  5. Bulent Atalay
    October 10, 2011, 1:49 pm

    This is a wonderful tribute that complements another tribute to Steve Jobs, as a Creator/Rebel, appearing in this series. The photograph of Jobs on a motorcycle is new to me.

  6. A Friend
    October 10, 2011, 11:02 am

    Steve Jobs was a visionary – he saw far. Very far, into the future. This might sound silly to many, but he was able to see what things were capable of, not just as things but as things we can use to do what we want to do. He could anticipate what people wanted, even before they could enunciate the need.

    He created Pixar and 3D/animation technologies, the NeXT operating system and mini-computer, he advanced and brought to the world the technology behind Adobe’s PDF, he gave us personal instant digital music/videos (iPod) with simple access to tens of millions of media titles (iTunes), the eye-catching designs of his computers and operating systems (iMacs and OS X), and not to mention his tearing down the walls built by mobile companies — forcing them to give us better phones like the the iPhone. He gave us the iPad, a personal mobile computer that ties together the concepts from all previous Apple products -in a simple “anyone can use it” style. He had started to give us our own integrated entertainment portals (with upcoming improvements to Apple TV).

    His passion for making things that “just work, the way we expect” is legendary.

    I was fascinated by one of his first creations, the Apple ][ personal computer — back in the early ’70s. He and his co-founder Steve Wozniak gave us some simple yet powerful (for those days) machines. And as a kid, it awoke my imagination to what was possible. I saw my creativity thrive – and my interest in technology and engineering flourish. And I saw my friends growth the same way. Even in those early years, Steve and Steve gave the world not just a product, but a “threat-multiplier”. They gave the world an army, a generation of new young entrepreneurs and technical whiz-kids. And these whiz-kids (like Bill Gates) used these tools to create the modern computerized world we live in. All of this is from an idea Steve had, of creating a personal computer that anyone could learn to use, to express their creativity, to do what they wanted (sounds like the iPad, doesn’t it? Not to Steve – to him the iPad was just another stop on his journey to a better creativity tool… He was making it better!)

    This same goal — to empower people to do creative things — has been a thread in the life of Steve Jobs. And the world has been transformed into a better more sophisticated and integrated place.

    I will miss him, including his unobtrusive Buddhist style — he gave generously but never discussed what or to whom he gave. He didn’t do things to get things – he just knew that if he did good things, others would give him the gift of notoriety.

    Steve, the world finally recognizes your good deeds.

    And your parents (all four) did love you, just not in ways you could experience always.

    Be at peace, friend. Your echoes will continue.

  7. Vikranth Deshpande
    October 9, 2011, 5:59 pm

    Jobs words, work and Life is inspiring.
    His creative ideas always brought freshness to the world.

  8. Ruslan
    October 9, 2011, 10:11 am

    once upon a time..

  9. FastEddie
    October 9, 2011, 9:16 am

    It should surprise no motorcycle enthusiast that in the photo Jobs is riding another beautifully designed machine, a BMW R75

  10. Janka
    Bohemian paradise, Czech Republic
    October 9, 2011, 6:41 am

    Thanks Mr. Jobs…. R.I.P.

  11. Daryl
    America...the beautiful
    October 8, 2011, 9:22 pm

    Thanks Steve…thanks.

  12. CS
    South Carolina
    October 8, 2011, 12:17 pm

    The weight of such a man as Steve Jobs is not measured primarily in amazing, awe-inspiring accomplishments and feats of imaginative curiosity that are obvious in every store and most homes in America and around the world, but in the life-loving and free spirited genius that he gave to those he loved and that hopefully will continue to inspire other creators for decades to come! He lived and died well!

  13. cs in SC
    South Carolina
    October 8, 2011, 12:12 pm

    I think the worth of an individual like Steve Jobs is not weighed primarily by his accomplishments and inventive curiosity, but by the fact that he gave of himself in so many ways and the mediocre fighting, life-loving, creative genius of a man that he was will continue to impact our world for decades to come!

  14. dato dananjaya
    Makassar, Indonesia
    October 8, 2011, 12:08 pm

    he change my opinion about digital imaging (photo digital) greatly after I use his creations
    my thanks will never enough

  15. Bill Holder
    upstate NY
    October 7, 2011, 4:35 pm

    Just responding to Freelance above – Jobs certainly did affect the life of anyone using technology today, even if you never bought or used any Apple products – what they’ve done forced other companies (particularly Microsoft) to change dramatically in response in order to compete. I honestly think that’s a bigger impact than the much narrower Apple fanboi set.
    – Bill

  16. Margi
    October 7, 2011, 4:29 pm

    He looks like Wolverine from X-men! heh. bit of a rebel wasn’t he? 🙂 I’m glad the world is a better place for his work. Political websites are more useful (ex. change.org) because of his efforts. I think I’ll upgrade my iphone in honor of Mr. Jobs.

  17. Coozoe
    October 7, 2011, 4:29 pm

    Well, I thought Macs were toys until 2004 when I bought my first iBook. I stumbled a bit on the new file system never looked back. After spending 8 hours a day patching Windows computers, I refused to allow an inferior operating system to monopolize my personal time too. What I learned from the Apple OS is that it seems to anticipate what you want to do next, and clears the path for you. Now, when I support Windows computers, I just shake my head at the archaics. I’ve had a Mac Book and now an Air, and I will have an iPhone 5 to replace my 3GS as soon as it’s available. Thank you, Mr. Jobs, for liberating me.

  18. Steve Kenny
    October 7, 2011, 4:28 pm

    The loss of Mr. Jobs and his prior departure from Apple in all likelihood shuts the door on an era and makes extinct the boundless superior creativity, super insight, inventiveness and genius that Mr. Jobs brought to Apple and the world. A genius not yet duplicated. Apple tried to duplicate this with CEO’s like Scully, but failed. I hope Steve trained someone or some group as needed to accomplish that so Apple can continue developing the glorious products that so benefited and enriched the world.

  19. Justin
    Atlanta, GA
    October 7, 2011, 4:26 pm

    While Steve Jobs was an extraordinary individual. I don’t really think Apple is his best legacy. I think his role in Pixar was more of an accomplishment. The iPod was a good idea, but it’s gone overboard. I still disagree with the companies anti-open nature that I have come to love from technical companies. Apple I can live without. Pixar gives me something I can really enjoy.

  20. Freelance
    October 7, 2011, 4:16 pm

    Interesting that he’d rather call the Apple a pc. Transformed how we live? Not everybody. I use iTunes, but used Napster long before it. I used my only iPod so seldom that I haven’t replaced it after it broke nearly a year ago. I don’t own a smart phone, let alone an iPhone. He didn’t invent the computer, email or the internet.

  21. John Servais
    Bellingham, WA
    October 7, 2011, 4:15 pm

    South of San Francisco. Silicon Valley is not “north” of SF.

    • Amanda Fiegl
      October 7, 2011, 4:19 pm

      Fixed the typo, thanks!