Steve Jobs' hero Buckminster Fuller thought Apple II was a toy

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 5
Famed designer, architect and philosopher Buckminster Fuller had a private talk with Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple, but one of them was more impressed than the other.




Fuller is less publicly known today, almost 40 years after his death, but his work and his influence on a dozen different fields continues. The geodesic dome was popularized by him in architecture, and the carbon compound buckminsterfullerene is named after him.

In 1980, you would have paid good money to see Fuller and Jobs talking. And on October 24, 1980, filmmaker Taylor Barcroft bluffed his way into Apple's Bandley Drive, Cupertino offices to arrange exactly that.

A new book, "Inventor of the Future: the Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller" by Alec Nevala-Lee, includes Barcraft's account of getting the two men together. According to the book, Barcraft first saw Fuller giving a speech and then, along with a cameraman, drove him to Cupertino. The aim was to get the two men talking on camera, but as Barcroft walked up to Apple reception, nothing had been arranged.

"I've got Bucky Fuller here for Steve Jobs," reportedly told the receptionist.

"I knew Steve was a fan of Bucky," Barcroft told Fast Company. "Anybody like Steve would be a fan of Bucky. And I wanted Bucky to meet Steve, who was going to fulfill Bucky's dream."

That dream was worldwide access to information, and Apple would play an enormous part in achieving that dream -- just not in October 1980.

Barcroft hoped that just showing up with the legendary Buckminster Fuller would get him an interview with Steve Jobs, and it did. Jobs came to reception, and so did very many other Apple people, including Daniel Kottke.

Apple employee number 12, Kottke was routinely the one to give people tours of the company -- but not this one.

Instead, Steve Jobs sat with Fuller and the two were filmed for a few minutes. Then Jobs took Fuller away on a personal tour, and neither man ever revealed what they talked about.

Except Fuller did make a few comments to Barcroft at the time. Which is just as well, since over the years Barcroft lost the film footage that was taken.

Barcroft's hopes that a demo reel with Jobs and Fuller would land him the documentary series he wanted, came to nothing. All that's left of the meeting is what Barcroft remembers Fuller mentioning afterwards, particularly about Apple and the dream of information for all.

"He didn't believe [the Apple II was] it," recounts Barcroft. "He thought that only mainframes could do that work."

"I remember him saying that he thought the [Apple II] computer was a toy," says Barcroft.

Buckminster Fuller died on July 1, 1983. He never saw the Mac, and surely never imagined the world of information that would be in every iPhone user's hand today.

Read on AppleInsider
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,630member
    We would do well to remember that being a genius in one area doesn’t make you a genius in all areas. 
    williamlondondewmedarkvaderAlex_Vwatto_cobramangakatten
  • Reply 2 of 24
    Editor: I’m Taylor Barcroft, the witness in the story. Please correct the spelling of my last name as is misspelled the second time in the story as “Barcraft” instead of the correct “Barcroft”. Thank you for telling that story.
    williamhmknelsonpscooter63darkvaderDogpersonAlex_Vjony0watto_cobramangakatten
  • Reply 3 of 24
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,487member
    I sometimes wonder if most people only have the ability to dream big when they're younger.
    retrogustololliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 24
    auxio said:
    I sometimes wonder if most people only have the ability to dream big when they're younger.
    Dreaming big involves big risk, the best time to take big risks is when you have nothing to loose (more often than not when you are young), later on you become responsible for other peoples livelihoods, even if just your family let alone a large company and it's employees.

    Most risk takers fail and are unheard of, we only know those who were successful.

    doorman.
  • Reply 5 of 24
    samrodsamrod Posts: 51unconfirmed, member
    Editor: I’m Taylor Barcroft, the witness in the story. Please correct the spelling of my last name as is misspelled the second time in the story as “Barcraft” instead of the correct “Barcroft”. Thank you for telling that story.
    Crazy that you're still around and an AppleInsider reader. I'm sure you have interesting stories about driving around with Bucky. 

    Where's the last place you remember the footage was? Was it 16mm, 35mm, or video? 
  • Reply 6 of 24
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,109member
    Let’s be honest, in 1980 personal computers WERE toys. Expensive toys that geeks played with. You DID need a mainframe to do most work. I worked with some. My FORTRAN class was taught on a mainframe with punch cards. Almost no small companies or people had home computers. Things like the Commodore 64 were still a couple of years away. The Internet and World Wide Web, is what really made personal computing a thing was well over a decade away. TBH people kept playing with them and there were a fair number of games, but the personal computer revolution was still a dream. So no, I don’t fault Buckminster Fuller for not seeing the possibilities, the future. At the time few did. 
    foregoneconclusionblastdoorAlex_V
  • Reply 7 of 24
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,487member
    auxio said:
    I sometimes wonder if most people only have the ability to dream big when they're younger.
    Dreaming big involves big risk, the best time to take big risks is when you have nothing to loose (more often than not when you are young), later on you become responsible for other peoples livelihoods, even if just your family let alone a large company and it's employees.

    Most risk takers fail and are unheard of, we only know those who were successful.
    True, but in this particular scenario there wasn't anything like that on the line for Bucky.  It was just his gut reaction, which I feel might have been different at a younger age.

    And yes, I did use an Apple II to learn BASIC programming a couple years after that, so I can certainly understand his impression of it.
  • Reply 8 of 24
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,303member
    I think it's very reasonable to understand why some early personal computers could be perceived as "toys" by people who were not part of the larger vision that inspired the creation of these "toys."  Dr Robert Goddard had a childhood vision to build a device that could reach Mars. His first rocket reached an altitude of 41 feet, which is not even close to toy model rocket standards. Needless to say, the vision that inspired the creation of this "toy" culminated in derivative devices that put men and machinery on the Moon, robots on Mars, and someday soon ... hopefully, Elon on Mars. 
    pscooter63
  • Reply 9 of 24
    ransonranson Posts: 44member
    Editor: I’m Taylor Barcroft, the witness in the story. Please correct the spelling of my last name as is misspelled the second time in the story as “Barcraft” instead of the correct “Barcroft”. Thank you for telling that story.
    I hope they fix it, but as I always say - the article is published, the clicks are happening, the banner ads are serving, and the author will get their dime. So why would they bother fixing it up when they're already on to the next story that will also be full of typos. Real journalism that includes a commitment to quality is dead. And it happens pretty much everywhere on the internet.
    edited August 3 darkvader
  • Reply 10 of 24
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,109member
    auxio said:
    auxio said:
    I sometimes wonder if most people only have the ability to dream big when they're younger.
    Dreaming big involves big risk, the best time to take big risks is when you have nothing to loose (more often than not when you are young), later on you become responsible for other peoples livelihoods, even if just your family let alone a large company and it's employees.

    Most risk takers fail and are unheard of, we only know those who were successful.
    True, but in this particular scenario there wasn't anything like that on the line for Bucky.  It was just his gut reaction, which I feel might have been different at a younger age.

    And yes, I did use an Apple II to learn BASIC programming a couple years after that, so I can certainly understand his impression of it.
    I learned BASIC on a mainframe with the output via teletype. This was 1978-79, so not much before this, and the OTIS system I used in HS was going strong well into the ‘80s. Computing in that time period meant mainframe. Personal computing at the time was, for most of us, getting our calculator to spell 5319009. (Extra points iif you get that)
    edited August 3
  • Reply 11 of 24
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 904member
    We would do well to remember that being a genius in one area doesn’t make you a genius in all areas. 
    Well, he was correct for the computers of that time period. Technology has changed a lot since 1980.
  • Reply 12 of 24
    I love reading things like this.

    Hindsight is always 20/20 - so we can feel superior to designated heroes.
  • Reply 13 of 24
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,487member
    DAalseth said:
    auxio said:
    auxio said:
    I sometimes wonder if most people only have the ability to dream big when they're younger.
    Dreaming big involves big risk, the best time to take big risks is when you have nothing to loose (more often than not when you are young), later on you become responsible for other peoples livelihoods, even if just your family let alone a large company and it's employees.

    Most risk takers fail and are unheard of, we only know those who were successful.
    True, but in this particular scenario there wasn't anything like that on the line for Bucky.  It was just his gut reaction, which I feel might have been different at a younger age.

    And yes, I did use an Apple II to learn BASIC programming a couple years after that, so I can certainly understand his impression of it.
    I learned BASIC on a mainframe with the output via teletype. This was 1978-79, so not much before this, and the OTIS system I used in HS was going strong well into the ‘80s. Computing in that time period meant mainframe. Personal computing at the time was, for most of us, getting our calculator to spell 5319009. (Extra points iif you get that)
    Ah yes, calculator words.  80081355 was always good for a giggle.

    I guess the point is, when I got in front of those "toys" at an early age, I didn't see the limitations at all.  The possibilities were infinite and only limited by your imagination.  Sure, as I got older and worked in the industry, I came to understand the business models needed to create successful commercial products (and why many great ideas fail).  But my feeling that anything is possible given enough time and desire never waned.  The average person may not understand the need for or the potential of ideas until they've been worked on and perfected for many years, but that shouldn't stop the dreamers from dreaming.

  • Reply 14 of 24
    pscooter63pscooter63 Posts: 1,062member
    DAalseth said:
    .Personal computing at the time was, for most of us, getting our calculator to spell 5319009. (Extra points iif you get that)
    I’ll see your 5319009, and raise you 71077345.
    DAalseth
  • Reply 15 of 24
    I still make all the words with the  calculator app but it’s such a bitch turning my iMac upside down to show them off. Then, when I do all I get is, “Ugh, when are you going to grow up?!” All that effort wasted. 
    DAalseth
  • Reply 16 of 24
    Buckminster Fuller certainly did predict the handheld technology we have now. In my 1982 two-day interview with him, the amazing Bucky told me that one day soon, we’d wear a communication device on our wrist that would enable real time democracy. You’ll wake up and have a list of things to vote on, he said. He knew this would be the result of technological ephemeralization, doing more and more with less and less. 

    Bucky gets portrayed as complicated by people who don’t understand what he was really all about. His number one contribution to humanity was to decipher and pass on the basic design principles of nature. He did this in his book Synergetics. The newly discovered molecules called Fullerenes are proving him more and more prescient and anticipatory. This knowledge is pivotal to our future as a species because it can help us realign with nature. This is what any conversation about Bucky should be about. It’s what’s most critical. 
    Here’s my book: bit.ly/buckylove 
    dewmemangakatten
  • Reply 17 of 24
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,692member
    DAalseth said:
    Let’s be honest, in 1980 personal computers WERE toys. Expensive toys that geeks played with. You DID need a mainframe to do most work. I worked with some. My FORTRAN class was taught on a mainframe with punch cards. Almost no small companies or people had home computers. Things like the Commodore 64 were still a couple of years away. The Internet and World Wide Web, is what really made personal computing a thing was well over a decade away. TBH people kept playing with them and there were a fair number of games, but the personal computer revolution was still a dream. So no, I don’t fault Buckminster Fuller for not seeing the possibilities, the future. At the time few did. 
    I mostly agree. 8 bit computer are *extremely* limited. Using an apple 2 for “serious” computing is like cooking a steak with an easy bake oven. 

    And yet… if an easy bake oven is all you can afford, you *could* use it to cook a steak. That was basically the situation in 1980 — for the vast majority of people, it was either cook steak with an easy bake oven or don’t cook steak. VisiCalc was a leading example 
  • Reply 18 of 24
    kovacmkovacm Posts: 59member
    the amazing Bucky told me that one day soon, we’d wear a communication device on our wrist that would enable real time democracy.


    Yes, “real time democracy” - we ended with programming the people using this “communication devices” aka smartphones like never before!

    In old days one would form opinion reading the books and today you will get your opinion by sneaky serving the right information at right time by one who control the flow of information on your device. 
  • Reply 19 of 24
    kovacmkovacm Posts: 59member
    Ted Nelson did something extraordenery for IBM and PC:

    - he really predict the future and course of computers (and it is not to mimic of “paper” like Xerox, Apple and Microsoft did!)

    Listen: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Kasu0BhRFGo
  • Reply 20 of 24
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,303member
    auxio said:
    I sometimes wonder if most people only have the ability to dream big when they're younger.
    Hmm. Ironically, this article published just yesterday seems to indicate somewhat of the opposite applies when it comes to achievement: 

    https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/08/older-aging-politicians-athletes-culture/671027/

    I suppose the takeaway is that dreaming big at a young age may require some patience to see your dreams fulfilled. 
    edited August 4
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