By: Kirk Douglas
As a product of the 80’s and 90’s I can attest to the countless “rocks stars” I saw on TV growing up. On any given night throughout my teens I could tune into MTV or VH1, a late night show on network television or an intimate interview on public access to see the next up-and-coming artist or tastemaker influencing music and pop culture at large. Established hit makers were doing interviews and performances across the airwaves from the likes of Nirvana, Janet Jackson, Beck, Madonna…the list goes on and on. In the footsteps of rebels and rock stars of the 60s and 70s, these new artists had arrived at a place in the 80s and 90s where they were a staple in entertainment across nearly every prominent form of media in their time. Guest appearances included talk shows, sitcoms, behind the scenes and of course, MTV’s hugely successful ‘Unplugged’ series.
Some of these celebrities held their footing and relevance spanning multiple albums and generations while others seemed like they were poised to be the next “big thing”, only to fade into the abyss. One thing was common among most of these acts — you didn’t have to be a fan of these people to know they were there. Their names were in the forefront of pop culture. They were everywhere.
Fast forward to 2015 on a late mid-September night where I found myself at home in bed, once again having worked far too long with too little sleep. I was barely able to keep my eyes open, but there was an interview I just couldn’t miss. There I sat with my iPhone in hand, scrolling through my Facebook feed with Stephen Colbert playing in the background; I was awaiting the interview of, not a rock star, but a CEO. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, was to be interviewed on Late night with Stephen Colbert, a show I’d never watched but then found myself having reason to. I typically wouldn’t give the show a second thought, but the thought of him interviewing Tim Cook had me intrigued. Colbert, known for his witty interview style and quirky comedic presence is about to talk to a man responsible for running one of the world’s most valuable and vibrant companies.
As I wait, I wonder how many others like me are doing the same. A question that would later be answered to some extent in the form of an article posted just a couple of weeks after by the Wall Street Journal, titled “Stephen Colbert gets the last laugh with tech execs” The article describes the steady uptick in interest around our tech-centric industry leaders in late-night television and their apparent and increasing relevance in entertainment.
I’m a believer. I read the article and immediately connected with the idea that others share this strange passion. The data is evidence that I am not alone and it coaxes me into wondering why. I think about the who’s-who in tech today and how many people might connect with the makers of these devices, these services and apps.
Do common people know who Elon Musk of Tesla is? Are they aware of Jeff Bezos (Founder, CEO, Amazon) and the disruption his company has caused amongst online and brick-and-mortar retailers? Is Travis Kalinick (CEO, Uber) a household name? One that makes long-term Taxi drivers shudder when they hear it? Does your average person find themselves excited to see Jack Dorsey (Co-founder, twice CEO, Twitter/ CEO, Square) back in the saddle at Twitter, potentially bringing the flailing company back from the brink of fallen share prices and lackluster user growth?
Alright, I digress… maybe there aren’t as many people out there who care as I might think. But there is a group of people out there who like me, follow these things and share in some connection and response to the goings-on in tech. Dare I say this might even be a response where threads of emotion tie them into the tech industry in some small way similarly to how a teen idolizes their favorite pop star? Is that going to far, or is there something to this uptick in interest?
To answer that question, I think all we need to do is look around us. As I sit on a Sunday night in my local coffee shop, I look past my Macbook pro and into a sea of coffee-stained tabletops, a floor strewn with backpacks and Beats headphones and white earbuds hugging ears and nestled in ear canals. There’s an unmistakable glow of technology in the room and its coming from Android tablets and iPads. A Surface pro in the distance appears to be running Warcraft. A Wacom tablet is being utilized by what I can assume is a graphic artist. And as I look outside I see our world further steeped in technology as passers-by look down, not at the ground but at the glow of their device.
Is it Facebook? Maybe LinkedIn that girl walking by is looking at? Hell, who knows. Is the guy at the bus stop checking the transit schedule? Maybe chatting with a friend on WhatsApp or setting up a date on Tinder? Maybe he’s hailing a Lyft or downloading the Drake and Future Mixtape. One thing is clear, these devices are everything; and much like those rock stars I mentioned, these devices are everywhere.
I watch what looks like a college-age athlete across the room closing his MacBook and putting on a jacket and a large pair of headphones as he readies himself to leave. He’s not a geek – I doubt that he’s constantly reading The Verge or picking up the latest Wired magazine to see where the industry is headed next. The same goes for that girl with what looks like a Galaxy note in one hand, her yoga mat rolled snug under her opposite arm, ordering coffee. These are people who are just going about their daily lives, but have a vested interest in where the direction of technology is headed. Since our personal technology is more personal than ever, changes in design, user interface…these things will directly impact the technology they use every day.
Without asking anyone I can only assume there must be others here like me. Perhaps this technology in which we find ourselves so steeped in evokes something in us that has further engaged our interests. And I think to myself having truly observed a few minutes that there is surely someone here who like me, waited eagerly to see Tim Cook speak on the Colbert show. Maybe someone here is empowered by Melissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo), or inspired by Satya Nadella (CEO, Microsoft) when they see him take stage to announce sweeping product changes. Somewhere in this large open room the possibility exists there’s a social app being written. A pay-to-play game or an online retail store being built that might someday shake up an industry. If any of those things are happening, there must be a catalyst. Is it the technology itself, or a combination of these empowering devices and their respective creators?
Our devices are an integral part of our pop culture, just as much as our music and choice in clothing. These objects tell a story about what we do and how we live.. They accessorize our lives and are as much our tools as they are our beloved toys. Everyday people know enough about this technology now that it’s no longer niche, and if they are tuning in to late night shows to watch an interview with Tim Cook or Travis Kalinick, they must admire or at least be aware of their massive influence. We may be seeing a swell in that once small sector of consumers on the verge of being enthusiasts. As the business and growth opportunities online and in technology come closer into view, and with technology being quickly adopted, the founders, inventors and CEOs will surely come into focus.
If it were 1995 all over again, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know the name Alanis Morissette. I can only wonder if in 20 years from now I might reflect on the tech giants of today in similar fashion. In this way, our generation has given birth to our own “rock stars” – of tech.