Origin Myths

Steve Jobs and Steven Wozniak
Built the first Apple in the back
Of Steve's garage; and thus began
The age when every single man
Has a computer of his own.
Three decades later, Jobs again
Transformed the lives of modern men:
A computer on a mobile phone!

Paul Allen and his friend Bill Gates
Loved coding. The capricious Fates
Smiled on their enterprise
And gave them favor in men's eyes,
To wit, the eyes of IBM
Who liked their work and hired them
To write an OS, speedily,
For the original PC.
Now Windows 10 is everywhere
And Bill's almost a trillionaire!

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin,
Beheld the state the web was in,
They realized that they could gauge
The relevance of any page
By seeing whence the inlinks came.
So Google --- such a silly name! ---
Is now the first place that you turn
For anything you need to learn.

Mark Zuckerberg, while still in school,
Designed a social media tool
For Harvard kids. And now FB
Counts among its family
One fourth of everyone alive.
Mark got the highest form of fame,
An Oscared film, and he became
A billionaire at twenty-five.


These myths, which everybody knows,
Are mostly valid, I suppose,
Some details lost, some folks forgot,
But more or less they hit the spot.
The problem is what they omit
They miss whatever doesn't fit
The narrative that's now the rule
Of genius that drops out of school,
Creates a start-up company,
Disrupts the hide-bound industry,
And joins, with no impediment,
The .0001 per cent.
To dwell on these exclusively
Can warp our sense of history.

Much of the progess that's been made
Was done by people who were paid
A comfortable salary
(After they got a Ph.D.)
With benefits and paid vacations
At colleges or corporations.

Everyone knows Bill Gates' name.
He's garnered universal fame.
Of thousands, at most two or three
Have heard of Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
The World Wide Web was his invention,
But he has missed the world's attention.
His contribution is no less
Than Bill's or Mark's; but his success
Brought him much less wealth than theirs.
It's just the World Wide Web. Who cares?

And even fewer techies, truly,
Have heard of Tukey or of Cooley
They built the FFT, the core
Of every signal processor.
It powers every mobile phone,
But, in the world, they're quite unknown.

I weep no tears for John or Jim.
Each reaped the harvest due to him,
Distinguished and well-paid careers,
Respect and fame among their peers.
It, nonetheless, reflects but badly
Upon the world, to worship madly
Only those individuals which
Have made themselves obscenely rich.


And then there is the untold tale
Of those who work and strive and fail.
Of ten who start a company
Only one survives to see
His goal achieved. The other nine
Never reach the finish line.
They're left with their high hopes unmet,
Their shattered dreams, and crushing debt.


To my mind's eye, a tragic image comes:
The famous, pitiable Eliz'beth Holmes
A vivid instance of the serious harm
Such myths can do. Elizabeth had charm,
Intelligence and creativity,
Ferocious drive and whirlwind energy.
In saner atmospheres she surely would
Have had a fine career and done much good.
But triumphs of the ordinary kind
No longer satisfy ambitious mind.
Holmes worshipped Jobs. She aimed at nothing less
Than Apple's stellar level of success.
She planned to climb the ladder to the top
By testing blood with just a single drop.
The press and public gasped in admiration,
And Theranos became the new sensation.
It failed; and she was found to be a cheat
Guilty of fraud and trumpery deceit.


This is part of the collection Verses for the Information Age by Ernest Davis