The Four Easter Eggs Hidden in Steve Jobs’ Stanford Address
Here’s a rabbit hole — What if Steve Jobs hid Easter Eggs as a how-to guidebook for surviving smartphones? Four Easter Eggs to be exact:
- The Smartphone-Painphone paradox.
- Dopamine is the itch, not the scratch.
- The black mirror.
- The middle way.
On June 29th 2007 the world changed forever. On that day, Apple released the first iPhone.
Thus we began the paradoxical smartphone era.
We’re now well into our second decade with these devices. And on one hand, it’s clear the smartphone is one of the greatest inventions in human history. In short, they give us godlike powers.
But on the other hand, we see that smartphones are also harmful to humans. In short, they cause pain.
We sense the dual nature of smartphones. It seems like it was there from the beginning. The question is this —
- Did Steve Jobs know about the paradox he had created?
- And is it possible, that he gave us the antidote?
I think he did.
This essay explores Steve Jobs’ secret guidebook for surviving the smartphone. Here’s a map of what we’ll explore today:
- The dual nature of the smartphone.
- Apple and Pixar’s history of hidden Easter Eggs.
- Why Jobs might hide four Easter Eggs surrounding his Stanford Address?
- The meaning of these Easter Eggs.
That said, if you’re ready to think different let’s dive in.
Thinking Different About the Term “Smartphone”
Smart. It all begins with that word. The etymology of the word smart reveals an unexpected history.
It turns out that the original definition of the word smart was not “intelligent” — but “painful.”
When I read this definition, a correlation rapidly took shape in my mind as I stared at my iPhone. It was this:
Smart means intelligence AND pain. Thus the term “smartphone” itself is a paradox. A double-entendre.
The smartphone gives us instant access to everything imaginable. This was first sold to us as nothing but good. But as we humans have evolved and merged with smartphones, the bad is more and more identifiable.
I believe both definitions of the word smart apply to the smartphone. And to such a degree that we could technically rename smartphones as painphones and still literally be accurate.
I believe Steve Jobs saw this paradox based on how much he agonized over every other detail at Apple. Its no stretch to assume he considered the term smartphone as well.
Steve Jobs First Easter Egg is the Paradox of the Smartphone/ Painphone
“The Tech Backlash” is old news by now. But not for parents. Modern parents can tell the world all about “the painphone.”
Parents understand the painphone on a visceral level. Modern parenthood of children under the influence of technology is trench warfare, every day.
Have you ever had to take away a smartphone or tablet from a small child? If you haven’t, without delay your beloved child turns into a rabid little wolverine. And I don’t mean the animal wolverine —I mean they turn into the marvel character Wolverine. They growl, the steely claws come out, and they make that face.
In other words, children show you the pain of smartphones in real time.
Establishing Steve Jobs’ History of Hidden Easter Eggs at Apple and Pixar
What is an Easter Egg? Not the colorful kind that celebrate Christ’s crucifixion — the other kind, in the cultural sense.
An Easter Egg in the cultural sense can be defined as such: “A cultural reference hidden in plain sight, typically within a movie, product, or work.”
Easter Eggs compel the viewer to watch closely and often, think different — and solve the riddle or significance of the reference.
An Easter egg can be used as an homage — or hyperlink — to another movie, product, or cultural work, that is significant to the hider of the egg.
Steve Jobs’ two companies, Apple and Pixar, are both infamous for the self-referencial Easter eggs hidden within their products and movies. The internet has found a plethora of Easter Eggs in Apple products.
For example, the Mac Community considers Jobs’ ‘Think Different’ speech and Stanford Address buried inside every Mac with OSX as hidden Easter Eggs.
Another example is the vast number of compilation videos and articles written about the hidden Easter Eggs woven throughout the Pixar movie Universe.
The Genesis Of The Easter Egg Hunt
Ok, based on this history, we’ve established Steve Jobs’ pattern of hidden messages.
That said, is it that far fetched to think The Creator hid something akin to a guidebook at the Genesis of the Smartphone-Painphone era?
Forgive my use of religious verbiage, but after all, the guy named his company Apple. In truth, I was never a big Steve Jobs acolyte. Sure I liked some of his quotes and speeches, but didn’t buy my first iPhone until the year after he died.
Now? I find myself like every other 5 Billion+ smartphone users who — let’s face it — can’t live without it!
Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It
Thus, my premise is this simple question — can we learn anything new (and helpful) about the Smartphone Era if we reexamine its creator and genesis story?
Subsequently, I dove into Jobs’ biography. Of course, I learned again how much of a “flawed asshole” he was. And also how “innovative-and-business-savvy.”
Jobs was cruel at times to family member and stranger alike. And yet, many of his colleagues regarded his behavior as “the price of poker when dealing with genius.”
In short, Steve Jobs was very human in his capacity for both startling perfection, and horrid imperfection.
Actually what I found most noteworthy about Steve Jobs is how influential he remains to this day.
Google search his name, and you’ll find his name in the news everyday. Meanwhile, two-thirds of planet Earth walk around tethered to a smartphone. And ~$1 Trillion Apple is one of the most successful companies imaginable.
When you read about him daily, in the Apple news feed of your iPhone, it makes you pause and seriously wonder… Do we all still live inside Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field?”
The Stanford Address: The Quotiest of All Steve Jobs Quotes
The Stanford Address is unique — because it’s the only time Jobs publicly summarized his personal, heartfelt notions of “How to live a meaningful life.”
Jobs is reported to have rehearsed it endlessly, and as a speech, The Stanford Address is nearly flawless. Concise and profound.
Its simple structure is still studied in speech classes by college students and business professionals alike.
Its “content” is the best kind — delivering high on meaning. In other words, Jobs took it very seriously.
A majority of the famous Steve Jobs quotes come directly from the Stanford Address.
Timing-wise you realize something interesting. Consider the time it takes to bring a product to market, and fact that the address occurred almost exactly two years prior to the unveiling of the iPhone One.
I’d wager the price of an iPhone X that Steve Jobs had an early prototype of the iPhone One (or at very worst the design) in his pocket, while he spoke.
What If We Think of the Stanford Address as the Book Of Genesis of the Smartphone Era?
Tons of thoughtful analysis has been created throughout time about the meaning compacted within the book of Genesis in the Bible.
Let’s look at Jobs’ Address in a similar way. Or, if you want to be agnotstic, as writer Robert McKee thought about movie scripts?
“The way in which a story begins, is the starting event that creates a moment of change.”
Robert McKee would point out that the proper interpretation of the metaphors and themes presented at the start of a story is what provides the basis for understanding the deeper meaning inherent throughout the entire story.
Again, Jobs knew all about movies.
So let’s drill down. Maybe there’s something there. Something that help us understand life with Smartphones?
What Can we Learn About the Stanford Address From Jobs’ Famous Apple Keynote Speeches
When we consider the Stanford Address alongside Jobs’ famous “keynote apple launch speeches we see a similarity. His Apple speeches were famous for their twists, surprises, and delightful unveilings.
At Stanford we see the hyperbole of “that’s it, no big deal” that he uses again at the launch speech for the iPhone One.
He said he was launching “three revolutionary products:”
- a widescreen iPod with touch controls
- a revolutionary mobile phone
- and a breakthrough internet communications device.
It was a famous bluff. The twist, of course, was that the three revolutionary products were one — They were all the same device. And he called it iPhone.
You might be saying that’s great, but we’re still on the hunt for the 2nd Easter Egg. We’ll get there, I promise. First we need to understand Jobs’ logic about connecting the dots.
The Stanford Address: The First Story About Connecting-The-Dots (And A Key Contradiction)
In the Stanford Address, Jobs’ line in his first story “You can’t connect the dots looking forward” contradicts another of his famous quotes, “Creativity is just connecting things.”
Malcolm Gladwell described Steve Jobs as a “tweaker.” He called Jobs someone who took a thesis and antithesis — and synthesized something new out of the two.
Indeed, through the tweaking process, Steve Jobs made his legacy of examining and connecting dots — not to the past — but into the future. It’s how he turned his dreams a reality.
John Sculley, Apple CEO 1983–93 said, “Steve’s mantra was, “Zoom-out, connect the dots between non-obvious things, then, zoom-in and simplify.”
As such, what culminated one day in the iPhone, came from a creative process that sounds eerily similar to the ravenous data-collection appetite (and data-digestion) of what we call Big Data.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote,“I’ll know it when I see it. That was Jobs’s credo, and until he saw it his perfectionism kept him on edge.”
Jobs knew it only after he had accumulated enough data points. And the tales of both Jobs’ innovation and Jobs’ assholery follow the same arch — his search was endless.
In this way, we now understand that describing the famous Steve Jobs “creative process” is just like describing the process of Big Data. And to connect one dot further — both processes are models of behavior driven by the nuerochemical Dopamine. (More dope on dopamine shortly.)
The Root of The Painphone Problem and Tech Backlashes
When we connect-the-dots back in time to the Stanford Address, we see the beginning of a startling shift in what it means to be alive. I think you know what I mean.
“Personhood” in the smartphone era involves interacting with
- The Attention Economy
- Machine Learning
- Big Data
- weird AI
- Existential threats like Technological Singularity
- Everyday threats, like upset circadian rhythms and the “Wolverine” in the living room.
These are the cornerstone concerns of “the Tech Backlash.”
Tim Cook (Jobs’ replacement as CEO of Apple) defined these mechanisms himself as “The Data Industrial Complex.”
When he said that, Cook echoed President Eisenhower’s warning about “The Military Industrial Complex.” The suggestion is of Cold War proportions. And Cook warned the world that we gave the system a set of goals which are doing harm.
For the average person, unpacking this downside of tech causes system overload. The struggle to feed our kids, pay the bills, pursue a little happiness, and maybe even find meaning in life is enough to keep us plenty busy.
How are supposed to keep tabs on a Data Industrial Complex that’s expanding at the pace of Moore’s Law?
Like all those Pixar Easter Eggs we missed over the years, most people haven’t kept pace with the extent to which the world has already changed.
So what the hell are we supposed to do about it?
Dopamine Is The Itch, Not The Scratch
To summarize, Dopamine as a nuerotransmitter was discovered in 1957 and has been widely misunderstood for the last 60 years. Ask someone on the street and if they’ve even heard of Dopamine, they’ll probably say, “It’s one of those feel-good chemicals.”
But it’s not that simple. In fact, current Science suggests something entirely different.
It’s now understood that Dopamine isn’t the relief — but the itch. Dopamine is dissatisfaction incarnate, which drives us in perpetual search for relief. In other words, Dopamine is the itch, not the scratch.
Dr Susan Weinschenk defines Dopamine in her article, “The Dopamine Seeking-Reward Loop, or “Why Can’t I Stop Scrolling On My App Feeds?”
Put another way, the worst aspects of Tech prey directly upon the primitive Dopamine pathways of our lizard brain — in order to fuel Big Data’s mock Dopamine seeking/reward loop.
Thus, Dopamine is not just at the heart of Tech — its at the heart of Humanity.
When we connect the dots back through history, we could argue that the drive Dopamine creates is behind every human advancement — and human tragedy.
Dopamine is the basis for the intelligence-pain dichotomy found in Smartphones, because Dopamine is the basis for the intelligence-pain dichotomy found in every human heart.
For example, take that statement of Western Civilization’s highest principle:
Once we understand Dopamine is the itch not the scratch, we can rephrase that as, “We’re all free to feel the pain of the pursuit of happiness.”
EASTER EGG #2 — The Dopamine Ring (Dopamine Seeking-Reward Loops) That Wrote History
The intelligence-pain dichotomy manifests on one hand in the many ways which using the Smartphone in our pocket makes us Superhuman.
- More computational power than the NASA Moon landing, connected to everyone on the entire planet, access to all the information ever known.
On the other hand — the grand trade off (and I don’t mean the $1000 price tag) — is that Smartphones use can lead us to act Subhuman.
- Compulsive phone-checking 150 times per day, FOMO, depression, anxiety, neglect of self, children, duties —these are the symptoms of Smartphone addiction.
The Writer Tim Suttle asked the key questions, “At what point does technology so impact the person that it fundamentally changes what it means to be a person? Has that point already come and gone? Is there a point at which technology so infiltrates personhood that it actually begins to weaken the species?”
The iPhone is the greatest invention in human history — but perhaps the most underrated lesson in all of Tech is that Steve Jobs didn’t allow his kids to use Apple products.
His daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs made an interesting observation about her estranged father’s face, “When he winced in pain or anger, it looked similar to when he started to smile.”
Steve Jobs knew the intelligence-pain dichotomy. Steve Jobs knew the dark side of tech.
The Stanford Address: The Second Story about Love and Loss (And Mark Rothko)
After Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer, his sister Mona Simpson said in her eulogy, “In the last year of his life, he studied a book of paintings by Mark Rothko, an artist he hadn’t known about before, thinking of what could inspire people on the walls of a future Apple campus.”
This anecdote reinforced the idea that Steve Jobs always “kept looking”. It’s further evidence of his highly active (even on his death bed) Dopamine Seeking-Reward Loop, as well as support of the mythology that “Jobs knew it when he saw it”.
But why Mark Rothko?
Biographer Brett Robinson said Jobs thought, “Apple stood at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Disciplines like art and religion, that are pursued for their own sake because they are central to who we are as human beings.
The servile arts on the other hand, technology being a prime example, are defined by what functional purpose they serve. The inertia of the Technological Age favors functional output, so those things that are done for their own sake are often seen as wasteful or inefficient. Jobs wanted to resolve that tension.”
That desire for relief from tension is why Jobs, up until his death, was studying Mark Rothko. Rothko is one of the most recognizable artists of all time, who made several of the most famous and expensive paintings ever sold at auction.
Rothko helped change the Art World in the 1950’s with his monolithic abstract Color Field Paintings and the statement, “A painting is not a picture of an experience…but is the experience.”
Rothko On Delivering A Religious Experience
Perhaps Jobs appreciated Rothko’s paintings for their efficiency — their simple, powerful (and expensive) aesthetic?
Perhaps Jobs liked how Rothko “thought different” and helped change the world with his ideas:
Mark Rothko wanted to manipulate basic human emotions (which, if you follow Tristan Harris’ work, makes him similar to most Tech Designers).
But how Rothko wished to manipulate people was to invoke nothing short of a religious experience in his viewer.
A comparison of how a Rothko painting vs a Smarthphone manipulates us presents a compelling argument in the debate of “quality vs quantity.”
Rothko took his pursuit of delivering the religious experience to its crescendo at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX.
Rothko Chapel and The Abyss
Completed in 1971 as a non-denominational spiritual space, it is free, and open to all. Inside, the Rothko Chapel features fourteen enormous, dark canvases. Ultimately, they were his final paintings before Rothko committed suicide.
As such, the Rothko Chapel space is difficult, contemplative, and somewhat overwhelming.
For example, surrounded by the volume, weight, and context of those canvases gave me the experience of gazing into an abyss. Sitting in the Rothko Chapel subsequently gave me a deeper understanding of the Friedrich Nietzsche quote.
One canvas seemed to gaze into me more than the others. Its thin, flat canvas features a black rectangular center, framed by a lighter outline.
As I contemplated its form — a thought hit me in the head like a brick.
My mind did a Gestault somersault, and associated the aesthetic of this canvas with another abyss — One that five billion of us are all familiar with, whether consciously or not. The Black Mirror.
EASTER EGG #3 — The Black Mirror
Steve Jobs would have come to this Rothko Chapel painting at the end of his Rothko book.
Did Jobs know it when he saw it? Did Steve Jobs see this canvas and think “Blank iPhone Screen?”
Did Steve Jobs know the Black Mirror? What I mean by that question is the black mirror moment. That’s when you’re creeped out by your own bleary-eyed face when you see it in the dark reflection of your iPhone on accident.
For me the black mirror moment typically follows a too-long session of endless, mindless scrolling. It’s typically pretty horrifying at a gut level. Whose wrinkled face is that?! Oh, it’s mine IRL. Where the hell did I just go?
This lead to the following dots we need to connect. What happens when we layer three things together like an instagram filter:
- The difficult context of Rothko’s abyss-like paintings.
- The non-denominational, spiritual context of the Rothko Chapel.
- The cancer battle and end of Steve Jobs’ life.
Is the Black Mirror a “Call to Turn Off the Tech”?
Maybe. Although that would be quite the Luddite’s dive back into Walden Pond.
“No-Tech” simply doesn’t jive with history, Moore’s Law, and Dopamine’s endless drive onward and upward.
And yet — Perhaps something in Jobs’ deep psyche wanted to warn us about the downside of his creation.
Is Self-Love Patient, Is Self-Love Kind?
To think about this another way, the famous “love is patient, love is kind” Bible verse Corinthians 13, includes the cryptic line — “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
In certain modern translations, the biblical “dark glass” is translated as “mirror.” In light of that, the implication is that true knowledge can be attained when we face reality, and “know thyself.”
Nietzsche warned us to be very careful when “fighting monsters”, and tech sure has taken on certain Frankensteinian qualities — But, Nietzsche never said, “Don’t Fight them”.
Thus let’s think about the black mirror like one more App. Let’s use our reflection in that blank screen as a reminder to keep fighting the monsters our abyss. To take honest care with ourselves— That we never become a monster.
If tech-usage exists on a spectrum ranging from, “Walden Pond to Silicon Valley,” where can we find that narrow, middle path to the “Promised Land?” How do we strike the proper balance of a life with tech?
Perhaps if we flip that question around, and think about “death with tech” we’ll find the answer? That brings us to Steve Jobs’ third story at Stanford.
The Stanford Address: The Third Story about Death Reveals Itself As “A Buddha Talk”
Contemplating death seems like a counter-intuitive way to seek happiness and contentment doesn’t it? That was Jobs final piece of advice — and it’s a rabbit hole.
Theologians will recall that contemplating death five times daily is an ancient Buddhist ritual practice. In early Buddhist texts, a prominent term is maranasati, which translates as “remember death.” Buddhists believe contemplating death, in turn brings happiness.
In fact, an entire country — the Buddhist Nation of Bhutan — measures its prosperity not by Gross Domestic Product, but by Gross National Happiness. Their national mantra is anchored in the fundamental yet sophisticated practice of contemplating death.
So here it is. In his third story about death, we encounter Steve Jobs’ Buddhist faith.
It’s been pointed out that Steve Jobs’ actions did not always align with that of a good Buddhist. But it sure seems like Steve Jobs contemplated death a lot — as indicated by his “Third Story.” Are any other Buddhist practices hidden in plain site?
In as much as we know Jobs didn’t let his own kids use Apple tablets, did he worry about everyone else’s kids?
Did Jobs synthesize the downside and possibility of 5 billion smartphone addicts?
Because if he did — in terms of providing a resource for people dealing with addiction — referring the world to the Buddhist idea of Dharma is actually quite elegant, and helpful.
In fact, it should be noted that scholars have identified a significant overlap between Buddhism and “12-Step” addiction recovery programs.
Life Is Suffering
Buddhism has basic precepts that take an instant to understand, and others that can take a lifetime to understand.
To elaborate, at the root of all addictive behavior (addictive Smartphone behavior for instance) is Dopamine. And Buddhism, perhaps more overtly than any other religion, deals directly with the problems of Dopamine.
For instance, perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Life is Suffering”?
The First of The Four Noble Truths — the bedrock of Buddhism — is “life is suffering.”
Buddhists state that life is suffering because all human experience is transient, or fleeting. Thus suffering results from our excessive desires, attachments, and dissatisfaction with our experiences.
The suffering of life (aka ‘dukkha’, in Sanskrit, pronounced doo-kah) comes in many forms:
- Suffering from physical, emotional and mental pain.
- Suffering due to change, or the impermanence of all things in life.
- The suffering due to conditioned states, dependent on, or affected by something else.
When we look at the multi-layered pain of dukkha through the lens of reward-seeking Dopamine loops, the dissatisfaction isn’t just limited to Smartphone addiction — it’s in everything.
The Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by desire, grasping or craving. This describes the dark side of Dopamine — the side Tech Designers manipulate to elicit seeking, scrolling, phone-checking behavior which transfers into dollars in the Attention Economy.
The Third Noble Truth is that there is a way out of Suffering. It’s possible to put an end to Dukkha, and attain freedom from the perpetual sense of unsatisfactoriness. This is the “good news” of Buddhism.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the way in which one ends Dukkha: “The Eightfold Path.” Buddha called the Eightfold Path “the Middle Way.’’ The middle way is a set of precepts for “right living.” Dopamine seeking-reward loops can be hacked and put to good use through awareness and seeking the highest good.
Thus, Steve Jobs’ fourth hidden Easter Egg, is the Middle Way of Buddhism, the core of his faith. To summarize, the Middle Way outlines the best way Jobs could have imagined, to fight the Monster he created.
EASTER EGG #4 — The Middle Way of Buddhism.
The mysteries of the Four Noble Truths, the role of Dopamine in History, the positive habits the Middle Way and even Jobs’ Stanford-Address-as-Dharma-Talk are enough to meditate on for a lifetime.
When we connect-the-dots back to Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, we see that the pain inhabited in the smartphone is not exclusive to Technology, nor something we can avoid, but a non-dualistic truth of life.
When we connect-the-dots forward, we see that every journey begins with one step. Raising awareness is the first step in reducing the suffering of smartphone addiction in the attention economy.
“The Great Way is Gateless, approached in a thousand ways. Once past this checkpoint, you stride through the Universe.” -Buddhist precept
The Four Easter Eggs represented in Jobs’ Stanford Address—
- the Painphone
- Dopamine is the itch not the scratch
- the Black Mirror
- the Middle Way
These represent ways of thinking that can hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of the forces moving in our life.
If we awaken with courage, and resolve to see the things in our life which create our suffering — for what they are — perhaps we can begin to rewire our ancient Dopaminergic pathways in order to lessen suffering in ourselves, and those around us.
I’m intrigued by the question — what if there’s an even bigger dopamine-drop to be found on the narrow path to actual, IRL, healing?
As Carl Jung said, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.”
This is a difficult ask.
It’s one thing to open ourselves up to pain. It’s another to navigate pain with our children.
It was a long road but Moses helped the Joshua Generation find the Promised Land? Maybe the Stanford Address, and the Easter Eggs therein, outline a new covenant that will help guide us into the next millennium?
It begins with honest discussions about the ways and means of addictive tech and the Attention Economy. It involves feeling the honest, painful feedback of unhealthy behavior, and using dopamine to guide our decision making back towards healthier paths.
Thus may we think different about pain. Not as something to avoid desperately — but as a simple tool, same as it’s always been— for honest feedback.
In short, pain is a teacher. Let us lear
And in that way, the intelligence — pain dichotomy in the word Smart is true once again.
Thank you, for your precious time.