Last Night's Viewing: Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy, BBC2


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The Independent Culture

Full disclosure: I'm writing this on a Mac (using Pages) and my iPhone – which yesterday obligingly turned itself into a transistor radio courtesy of an updated iPlayer app – is lying by my right hand. And, though I wouldn't usually feel the need to take you through my hardware choices before embarking on a review, it seems appropriate before tackling Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy, Evan Davis's profile of a businessman and innovator who aroused quasi-religious levels of devotion among some of his customers. Davis's film began with footage of weeping Apple acolytes in front of the impromptu shrines that sprung up around Apple stores when Jobs's death was announced earlier this year. Full disclosure part two: I didn't light a candle myself, either in wax-space or on an iPad, and I've never been an early adopter. Any real Apple fanboy would know I'm not the real thing.

One of the things that Davis's film reminded you of was that Jobs himself was Fanboy Number One, utterly seduced by the technology he developed and sold. Again and again, you saw Jobs launching his latest product with a completely unabashed hyperbole. "Insanely Great" was the pitch for the company's first Macintosh computer and archive footage showed that a studied ingenuousness was one of his marketing tools: "It works like magic," he would say in awed tones, or "it's so cool". Stephen Fry, who I think would proudly lay claim to the title of fanboy, described it in the opening minute as "a mixture of chutzpah, bullshit, self-belief, self-delusion and insane ambition".

Jobs launched the Macintosh with the famous 1984 advert, suggesting that IBM was Big Brother and Apple part of the insurgency. That chimed with Jobs's roots in Sixties counter-culture, his sense of himself as an upstart outsider taking on the big guys to a Bob Dylan soundtrack. He'd dropped out of college to take classes on the fly and he'd dropped acid: "Definitely, taking LSD was one of the most important things in my life," he told an interviewer later. But within the Haight-Ashbury seeker of truth, there was a core of Napoleonic ambition. Jobs didn't want to end up working for the Man. He wanted to be the Man.

There weren't any hugely surprising revelations in Davis's film. The recent publication of Walter Isaacson's biography has put a lot of the essential facts in the public domain and, in any case, real Apple devotees have been scraping up facts about their guru for years, often using the devices he helped to put in their hands. Few of them wouldn't already have heard the story about how Jobs persuaded John Sculley, then head of PepsiCo, to join Apple: "You want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?" he said. If you hadn't heard it, though, they had John Sculley here to tell it, as well as the deeply amiable Steve Wozniak, Jobs's first collaborator.

The hiring of Sculley famously ended unhappily, with Jobs ejected from his own company and spending 11 years in an usually fruitful wilderness before returning to Apple for a classic Hollywood third-reel triumph. The famous Jobs "reality distortion field" – an ability to believe what he wished to be true and then persuade or bully others into making it come true – wasn't infallible but worked often enough to transform Apple into one of the most profitable companies in the world. Tellingly, there was a hint here that the "reality distortion field" that served Jobs so well might also have contributed to his early death. Jobs waited for nine crucial months before having surgery for his pancreatic cancer, while he tried out alternative therapies that proved useless. "Stay hungry, stay foolish," he told Stanford students in a justly famous commencement address. Perhaps not so foolish, though, that you trust to magic to make you better.