“The computer is a bicycle for the mind”.
I always liked this quote, but I didn’t get it. I thought Steve Jobs meant that the computer is like a gym for the mind – a fun place to get exercise. But he’s getting at something precise and profound, and it’s a great way to see how Steve Jobs thinks and communicates.
The core concept is that bicycles amplify human abilities. They make humans more efficient. They help humans be more human by freeing us from mechanical drudgery so we can be more creative. Steve Jobs masterfully explains this through three interrelated comparisons.
Comparison #1. PCs were clearly innovative but it was hard to understand the coming impact of widespread usage of PCs. To help frame the expectation of impact, Jobs predicted that the PC revolution would outstrip the petrochemical revolution.
Comparison #2. Next, Jobs explained how the petrochemical and PC revolutions are connected. He discusses the equal impact computers and booster rockets have on space flight – both amplify human’s motility. Like a bicycle.
Comparison #3. Jobs makes another locomotion analogy to explain the qualitative difference of the democratizing impact of PCs. More isn’t just more, it’s different. It’s the change from relying on trains to automobiles.
Notice also how Steve Jobs communicates. He’s clearly rehearsed this – you can find him repeating the same story here. Jobs uses bursts of energy – speaking alternately quickly and slowly, loudly and fast. He smiles and expresses himself through movement.
He listens intently. You can see him actually appear to be frustrated at being interrupted but quickly composed himself for the opportunity to listen to the questioner and then respond. He’s being present.
It’s easy to be wowed with Steve Jobs as superhuman, but ultimately his skillset is within reach of all of us. Pull up a clip of Steve Jobs talking, and decompose what makes it so effective.