Some Of The Pre-iPad World We Need Back

I get to tie together what’s happened to the printed word with the dark history of the iPad in one bizarre post right here.

Here is writer Susie Bright wailing about how things have changed for the worse — so far — for too many writers.

And it’s true.

Here’s an excerpt from What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry to set it all up:

One of those who set Koltnow most on edge was an unusual character who referred to himself as Cap’n Crunch and who brought with him an obsession for using technology illicitly. Crunch was John Draper, a former air force technician who had worked with radar and secure communications equipment while in the military. After leaving the service, he had bounced around the Bay Area working as an engineering technician at National Semiconductor, as a radio engineer for a local FM station, and at Hugle International, a small electronics company, where he had begun to design a cordless phone before the effort had collapsed and he left to study at De Anza Community College.

Draper’s life had taken a strange turn in the late 1960s when he met a young blind man named Denny who had demonstrated how the whistle that came in the Cap’n Crunch cereal box was tuned to the precise frequency that enabled it to control the long-distance calling switches of the AT&T telephone network. Draper subsequently found his way into a subterranean cult of young “phone phreaks,” who explored the innards of the vast global telephone network with the passion of a Bilbo Baggins setting out from Hobbiton. Draper became notorious under the name Cap’n Crunch after his antics with the telephone system were described in an article in Esquire magazine by Ron Rosenbaum, titled “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” which appeared in the October 1971 issue.

Margaret Wozniak, whose son Steve was then studying at the University of California at Berkeley, saw the article and mailed a copy of it to him at his campus dormitory. Wozniak was entranced. He had never been so excited, and he started sharing the story with anyone who would listen to him. Several days later, a friend from high school came by to visit, and as he listened to Wozniak expound on the character known as Cap’n Crunch, interrupted him and said, “I know who Cap’n Crunch is.”

“What do you mean? Nobody knows who he is! The FBI doesn’t even know who he is!” Wozniak shot back.

“I worked at KKUP in Cupertino,” his friend answered. “He worked there. A guy by the name of John Draper said he was Cap’n Crunch.”

Wozniak was determined to find Crunch and enlisted another high school friend, Steven Jobs, in the hunt. Jobs was back in the Bay Area after having dropped out of Reed College and traveling in India for several months. When Draper heard they were searching for him, he drove to Berkeley.

Mustached and wearing horn-rimmed glasses, Draper strolled into Wozniak’s dorm room and with a flourish announced, “It is I!” Draper tutored Wozniak and Jobs in the art of building their own blue boxes, devices that were capable of gaining free—and illegal—access to the phone network. The two novice entrepreneurs sold the blue boxes door to door on the Berkeley campus, several years before they founded Apple Computer.

What the printed word used to be can be seen in that Esquire article of 1971.

It’s available both as text to read online here or as a PDF scan (this is a direct link — do Save As…).

The shocking thing about that article is that it’s twelve pages of very, very dense text. When was the last time you saw a magazine run something that long? Esquire was a premium publication and paid writers a premium rate. These days, I’d be shocked if they ran anything that long and dense. I don’t think there’s a single magazine out there — outside of scholarly journals — that does.

Will the iPad change that?

I hope so. There has to be room again for publications that do feature stories like that. Maybe the iPad will make it possible.

And, oh, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak? Here they are, with Jobs examining one of those very illegal devices they once sold:

It’s a strange world, eh?

4 responses to “Some Of The Pre-iPad World We Need Back

  1. It really is a strange world. But mostly it is a *changing* world. And I think Susie Bright, who you refer to, is revealing the end of the writer as we know it. Everything is unraveling for the copyrite worker, be they writer, musician, celebrity, or whatever.

    Where things are going, I don’t know. But Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in their young days, flogging dodgy boxes that hacked into phone networks, sum up where we are at now…. For example, right at this moment I want to backtrack to the B52s…but I ain’t gonna pay, fuck no, I’m gonna Youtube it, GrooveShark it, or download the audio from Youtube converting it to MP3 .

    Or if I want to get an old outa print book, now selling for £300 on Amazon used/rare, well, let’s get a copy over at…and mostly you can find one.

    What about the latest bestsellers, well, I can’t think o’ one I wanna read.

    Nope, everything is unraveling. The future is an open game. But the Copyright soon will wield no power. Once the writer was a magickian, a shaman, carving runes on branches and bone, and the bards told stories live, entrancing listeners. Wandering “galdr-men” roamed the land telling tales of heroes, heroines and fearsome creatures.

    I think we will be returning to all that, both live , and via the networks. You’ll tell your stories and they’ll be retold…but if you’ve got the edge people will wanna hear YOU telling your tales. And they’ll pay for the privilege.

  2. Nah, most people will pay for books. Pirate editions are dodgy and bring their own problems — viruses, trojans. Thing is, people will pressure the prices lower. I hope that will lead to an increase in sales, though. As for Scribd, that’s mostly PDF and people would rather have a format that works properly on their portable device instead of something — scanned PDF — that requires sitting at a desktop monitor to read.

  3. Mike,

    great take on the convergence of tech and writing which I am very into. Smart post. Well done

  4. kids today who think that they are real bad asses have nothin’ on jobs and woz.

    Thanks for recommending the dormouse book.