In all the elegiac coverage of Steve Jobs, there hasn’t been much discussion about dogs.
Perhaps this is because dogs don’t use Apple computers. They do spreadsheets in their heads.
More likely, the dearth of canine-related Steve Jobs’ coverage has to do with the fact that there was never any indication that Jobs was a big pet person. He was mostly mum about his personal life, so it’s hard to say for sure whether or not he ever had to wipe dog saliva off his hands before unlocking his iPhone. But I never noticed any cat hair on those black turtlenecks.
Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak, on the other hand, made no secret of his puppy love.
In 1983, just around the time of Apple’s launch of its LISA personal computer, People magazine reported that Wozniak and his wife shared their San Jose home with four llamas, two donkeys, three Siberian huskies, an Australian shepherd, four mutts, and a red-tailed hawk. When he returned to UC Berkeley to get his bachelors in his thirties, he matriculated using his porn star monicker: his dog’s name and his wife’s maiden name: Rocky Raccoon Clark.
Jobs might not have been that gung ho when it came to pets. But I’m guessing that Jobs, silent though he may have been on the subject, was an animal lover. Clues: He was a militant vegetarian, which usually is an indication that someone is thoughtful about non-human animals (or else they just really hate plants). Also, his company Pixar made both Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life, and won a special award from PETA in recognition of its films’ messages. On its website, PETA enumerates several other pro-animal moves for which Jobs could be given credit, among them the fact that iPhoto facial recognition software can detect cat faces.
But here’s something they didn’t mention: In 1983, Jobs and Wozniak introduced their LISA computer with a commercial featuring a pitbull.
Pitbulls are my favorite kinds of dogs. If you raise them right and treat them well, they’re the most snugly, loyal, soulful dogs you’ll ever encounter. Unfortunately, they’ve been appropriated by the wrong kinds of owners and have been unfairly maligned in the press. A lot of the pitbull prejudice took root in the last generation; the dogs who’d been revered earlier in the century — they once were called “nanny dogs” because they were so great with children — were frequently berated and bad-mouthed in the media by the early 1980s. Much of the bias against pitbulls today stems from that dark time.
But that didn’t keep Apple from giving a nod to the misunderstood pitties of the world: This 1983 spot features a young and hunky Kevin Costner biking to work in the early morning, with his trusty pitbull aside him, presumably so that he can hop on his LISA office computer. Imagine voluntarily going on your computer on the weekend!
This was a couple decades before dogs — let alone foosball tables, masseurs and sushi bars — were commonly found in Silicon Valley offices. But Costner, is a forward thinker. So, come Saturday morning, he brings his pitty to the office. And then he calls his wife to let her know he’ll be home before breakfast. The idea conveyed: Computers are better than sleeping in. And dogs like bicycles.
The murkiness of that message might be part of the reason that, in the history of Apple, LISA was a relative flop.
But don’t blame the dog.
Jobs actually wasn’t a fan of dogs in the workplace. When he returned to Apple in 1996, he banned them from the Apple campus, to the chagrin of many of his workers. But, detail-oriented as he was, he must have okay’d putting the dog in this commercial. Was it a nod to the fact that, like the pitbull, Apple products were beautiful and loyal? Or misunderstood? Are we supposed to construe that a man who’d have an Apple computer would also be a clean cut, well-healed rebel who’d eschew the typical station wagon and the golden retriever in favor of a bike and a pitbull? Someone who could “Think Different” and pay no heed to stereotypes?
Or was it a reference to the company being based in the US? The pitbull, indeed, was once associated with many things wholesome and American: A bully breed dog was the mascot for RCA and Buster Brown shoes; the kids’ best friend in The Little Rascals; and a mascot for America in both World Wars.
There will never be another Steve Jobs. But perhaps the LISA pitbull mascot could still be reincarnated.