Busted: Steve Wozniak

The personal computing pioneer on philanthropy and “Life After Apple”

He was a Cal-Berkeley dropout who sought to impress his friends in a local computer and electronics hobby club with a slick, new invention that in turn ended up selling incredibly well and starting a revolution in the computer industry.

Stephen Gary “Woz” Wozniak, is best known as the co-founder of Apple Computer and the inventor of the first two personal computers, the Apple I and Apple II, in the mid-1970s. Since leaving Apple in 1985 he has directed most of his efforts toward philanthropy. In 2007, MTV Real World Alumn, Joe Patane, now, a social worker and close friend of Woz, asked for his collaboration in forming a new camping experience focused on creativity and technology alongside living in a communal environment. To achieve their goal Patane asked Wozniak to open his home to ten ’emotionally and behaviorally challenged’ young men from New Jersey, ages 14-20, as the first host of The Patane Family Foundation’s ‘Dream Camps—in this case known as Camp Woz.

Clearly an introvert, Wozniak allowed Busted Halo® to send him questions via email and while retaining much of his guarded personality, we gained a slight bit of insight into some of what makes Woz tick. Patane and Wozniak also had the Camp Experience made into a documentary: Camp Woz: The Admirable Lunacy of Philanthropy, where both Wozniak and Patane, both eccentric, in their own way, gain respect and admiration from these young men who often find it hard to fit into the world around them, despite their gifts for art, music and other creative ventures.

Busted Halo’s Mike Hayes received these cryptic answers from Wozniak regarding “Life After Apple.”

BH: For some time after you left Apple the big question in the technology world was “Where’s Woz?”  You just kind of disappeared (at least in the eyes of some people).  What was that time like for you-what were you thinking about in terms of your own life’s journey?

Woz: Tons of philanthropy (starting museums, etc.), startup company to make first universal remote, raising family, tons of press but not what you saw, donating computers to schools, getting into network administration, wiring schools, getting into internet (so early I got a 3-letter dot-com, woz.com, but I use woz.org because I’m more a non-profit guy, routing internet to school district (802.11 long before AirPort came, long before 802.11b), getting my degree at Berkeley (EE & CS-name Rocky Racoon Clark), raising 3 kids, put on 2 of largest music festivals of all time (1,000,000 attendance each of 2 years in California), giving tons of speeches all over world for free, teaching 5th grade and 6th through 9th grade and teachers for 8 years (no press allowed because students should not be around monsters of the world), lots of U.S./U.S.S.R. peace initiatives ($1M worth) during cold war and Peristroika, including the first FOUR space bridges (don’t believe ABC’s claim of first), founded Shoreline Amphitheater …

“My friends are not CEO’s but rather interesting people, even if they are homeless.”

The press I got you might have missed. I never seek press, never call them, never have a PR person, try to have normal life to some extent. My friends are not CEO’s but rather interesting people, even if they are homeless.

BH: You’ve really re-emerged as less of a computer celebrity and more of a philanthropist now.  You clearly could write your own ticket to do just about anything at Apple or anywhere else, what was it that caused you to choose this path?

Woz: Apple not interested in me on board but I’d love a role there. I have lots of good will and opportunities. I get away from people who have greed for money.

BH: You’ve focused a lot of your energy on children.  Can you tell us what is it about children that really seems to bring you joy and makes you clearly seem more alive?  Did you have a personal experience that drew you to this cause?

Woz: Too long to answer–I have very little time. My whole life I cared about kids and wanted to be a hero and friend to them and succeeded in many ways.

BH: You really seemed to connect with the kids in Camp Woz. Who came up with this idea and what was it that made you want to get involved?

Woz: Joe’s idea. He’s a great person and I love him for it. I did enough directly for and with kids in my life and don’t need the credit. I hope that both of us serve as good examples though.

BH: It seems as if you were more than a teacher or a mentor to these kids-more like a guy who they can hang out with-like a big brother.  Did you have a big brother figure in your life and what was childhood like for Woz?

Woz: I try to be like a friend to kids. It was much easier until the last decade though. Lots of other things take my time now. I do plan more kids of my own however.

BH: We’re a website for spiritual seekers-those who might not be interested in religion but are looking to explore the ways that spirituality matters in their lives. Do you have a personal spirituality that you adhere to? Where do you find deeper meaning?

Woz: No, not necessary for my own happiness. I have guides in life as we all do, and formulas for happiness, but I wouldn’t claim that the same formulas and guides would apply to another person.

BH: What is your own personal history regarding faith (ie: how were you raised, what trajectory has your spiritual life taken?

Woz: No church. No follower. No blind faith. Not even when it comes to computer platforms. It has to be good to get my approval. I try to be objective but there’s almost no such thing.

BH: In this day and age many people ascribe an almost religious sense of commitment and fascination to the world of technology. Devotion to Apple and its products is perhaps the most obvious example. What are your thoughts on that?

Woz: Bad to define ‘good’ because it’s associated with Apple. Better to define ‘good’ by principles and judge Apple by that. I see many, many people who stop being skeptical. It’s the same as church or cults.

BH: Tell me about Segway Polo.  You teach the kids how to play polo on a Segway Mover in the documentary. How did you get involved in this?  And how competitive have you gotten at it?

“I always was shy and wanted to avoid the spotlight. I truly think that I carry unusual gadgets and tricks and magic tricks and interesting knowledge to avoid having to socialize normally, which I’m incapable of.”

Woz: I was the first person to buy a Segway. I knew the inventor. I love it in all aspects of my life – home, car and sport. I was in the Bay Area Segway group (we go on glides) and some started polo and I got back to town for about the 3rd match and was surprised to find that (a) it works and (b) it’s fun.

BH: A friend watched the documentary with me and noted that some folks might criticize this sport because nobody’s running around-instead they’re riding a Segway.  But when I watched it, I thought that you probably need a lot of coordination and some upper body strength as well, no?

Woz: I’ll be cruising my town of Los Gatos and people will shout “lazy” but they drove to the downtown to walk by stores while I rode that Segway all the way from home. It’s really good for me due to a herniated disc that makes long walking or other things not possible. The Segway makes the world as accessible to me as to a normal person. In my life I did a ton of running and was in marathon shape and I rode bikes a lot, but now I’m older and the Segway is better for me.

BH: I get the sense that you shun the spotlight-but yet you are known as a funny person who is often the life of the party too?  Which is closer to the guy you’d most like to express to others?  When people say the name Woz-what’s the first word you hope pops into their head?

Woz: I always was shy and wanted to avoid the spotlight. I truly think that I carry unusual gadgets and tricks and magic tricks and interesting knowledge to avoid having to socialize normally, which I’m incapable of. I’m also confident with others.

BH: What’s the next Woz project that I don’t know about?

Woz: I won’t say.

BH: We have a feature called Essential Reading for the Spiritual Seeker.  Can you share some books that have made a difference in your spiritual journey?

Woz: Walden Pond.

For more information on the Patane Foundation Dream Camps go to: http://joesworld.org

For more information on Steve Wozniak go to: http://www.woz.org