The Steve Jobs Keynote I Missed

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Twenty-seven years ago, I foolishly passed up the opportunity to go to a Steve Jobs keynote. I haven’t been kicking myself ever since, but I do feel bad every time I stop to think about it—such as right this moment.

I was a member of the Boston Computer Society, an amazing institution which Jonathan Rotenberg had founded in 1977, when he was thirteen. It was not some little club. In fact, by the early 1980s, it was frequently the first place on the east coast where titans such as Apple, Atari, Commodore and Radio Shack demonstrated their new machines.

(MORE: Steve Jobs: Remembering the Dissatisfied Man)

On January 30th, 1984, the BCS meeting featured Steve Jobs demoing Apple’s breakthrough system, the Macintosh. It was a chance for BCS members to see, essentially, a second performance of the demo which Jobs had given a week earlier at Apple’s shareholder meeting in an auditorium at De Anza College in Silicon Valley.

Fred D’Ignazio reported on the Boston version for COMPUTE magazine:

“The Macintosh is the third milestone in the personal computing revolution,” Jobs said as he walked over to the table at the center of the stage. “First came the Apple II in 1977.” An Apple II appeared on the giant screen overhead.

“Next came the IBM PC in 1981.” A PC appeared on the video screen. The audience began laughing. The image of the PC on the screen was out of focus and almost unrecognizable.

“And now, in 1984,” Jobs said, as he reached the table and put his hands on the box, “we have the Macintosh, the third milestone and definitely the greatest. It is so great it is insanely great.” People laughed. The words “INSANELY GREAT” appeared in giant letters over Jobs’ head.

“This machine eats 8088s for breakfast,” Jobs continued. “Its Motorola 68000 cranks along at 8 megahertz and processes over a million instructions a second. It has four musical voices and a speech synthesizer built-in. Its screen has twice the dots of an Apple II or a PC. Yet the whole computer weighs only a third of an IBM box.

I somehow managed not to be present for an event which, if not historic, was a remarkable opportunity for a Boston-area computer fan. I don’t remember what I did instead, or why I didn’t think the meeting was worth my time—especially since I’d attended the earlier meeting at which Apple demoed the proto-Apple known as the Lisa, and found it utterly astounding. (Bitmapped fonts!)

A few years later, I attended Jobs’ BCS demo of his NeXT computer—which filled Symphony Hall to the rafters and blew my socks off. Even later, I was fortunate enough to go to most of Apples Stevenotes of the past few years, including his iOS 5/iCloud one last June. They didn’t all amaze me—Jobs was at his best when the products were, in fact, amazing—but it was always special to see technology’s master showman at work. And I still haven’t quite confronted the fact that we’ll never see another Stevenote.

(Incidentally, my Technologizer column over on this week is about another aspect of the Jobs era: The man’s basic inability to stay satisfied with anything for long, and why that’s been so critical to Apple’s success.)

VIDEO: Memorable Steve Jobs Keynote Speeches