Al Gore, Mac Nerd and Internet Pioneer

Apple press release, on 19 March 2003 (about seven months after I started writing Daring Fireball1):

Apple today announced that Albert Gore Jr., the former Vice President of the United States, has joined the Company’s Board of Directors. Mr. Gore was elected at Apple’s board meeting today.

“Al brings an incredible wealth of knowledge and wisdom to Apple from having helped run the largest organization in the world — the United States government — as a Congressman, Senator and our 45th Vice President. Al is also an avid Mac user and does his own video editing in Final Cut Pro,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Al is going to be a terrific Director and we’re excited and honored that he has chosen Apple as his first private sector board to serve on.”

I love that the second sentence from Jobs was about how Gore is a Mac enthusiast who uses Final Cut Pro. Compare and contrast with today’s utterly milquetoast statements from Tim Cook and chairman Arthur Levinson about new board member Wanda Austin:

“Wanda has spent decades advancing technology on behalf of humanity, and we’re thrilled to welcome her to Apple’s board of directors,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “She’s an extraordinary leader, and her invaluable experience and expertise will support our mission of leaving the world better than we found it.”

“Wanda has long been a leader in unleashing the potential of cutting-edge technology,” said Arthur Levinson, the chair of Apple’s board of directors. “She brings incredible insights and experience to our board, and she will play an important role in helping Apple continue enriching users’ lives around the world.”

In 2003 there was one person in the world who could be described as a former vice president of the United States and avid Mac user. (That’s still true today, and that person remains Al Gore.) Cook’s and Levinson’s descriptions of Austin could apply to just about any technology company executive in the world.

Gore’s statement from 2003:

“Steve and his team have done an incredible job in making Apple once again the very best in the world,” said former Vice President Al Gore. “I have been particularly impressed with the new Mac OS X operating system and the company’s commitment to the open source movement. And I am especially looking forward to working with and learning from the great board members who have guided this legendary company’s inspiring resurgence.”

In 2003, Mac OS X was the most important product for the future of the company, and the open source movement was one of the major stories of the moment.

Austin’s statement today:

“Like Apple, I’ve always believed in the power of innovation to improve lives, support human potential, and shape a better future,” said Dr. Austin. “I’m honored to join Apple’s board of directors, and I look forward to being part of a company that’s always creating new ways to empower people all over the world.”

She could have said the exact same thing about joining the board of any tech company in the world today. If she serves for 20 years, like Gore did (which is unlikely, given that she’s already 70 and Gore is stepping down because of a policy “directors generally may not stand for reelection after reaching age 75”2), no one in the year 2044 is going to look back on her statement above and think, Yeah, that captures what was then the current moment for Apple. Austin may well be a perfect candidate to serve on Apple’s board, but there’s nothing in today’s press release that indicates why.

Gore was widely mocked in the run-up to the 2000 election for supposedly claiming to have “invented the internet”. But he never claimed any such thing. From Snopes:

The claim that Gore was actually trying to take credit for the “invention” of the Internet was plainly just derisive political posturing that arose out of a close presidential campaign. If, for example, Dwight Eisenhower had said in the mid-1960s that he, while president, “took the initiative in creating the Interstate Highway System,” he would not have been the subject of dozens and dozens of editorials lampooning him for claiming he “invented” the concept of highways or implying that he personally went out and dug ditches across the country to help build the roadway. Everyone would have understood that Eisenhower meant he was a driving force behind the legislation that created the highway system, and this was the very same concept Al Gore was expressing about himself with interview remarks about the Internet. [...]

A spirited defense of Gore’s statement penned by Internet pioneers Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf (the latter often referred to as the “father of the Internet”) in 2000 noted that “Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development” and that “No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution [to the Internet] over a longer period of time.”

Not a bad endorsement.

  1. No mention of Gore’s appointment to the board in my archive for March 2003, but that preceded the existence of the Linked List (my short-form link entries). That month did see what I still consider my best ever one-two shot of back-to-back headlines: “Aliasing” and “Anti-Aliasing”. (There was also an “Anti-Anti-Aliasing”.) But this one, clearly, was the best piece of the month. ↩︎

  2. It’s wild to think that Gore, whose ill-fated lost-by-a-hair run for president took place a quarter century ago, has reached the mandatory retirement age for Apple’s board, yet is several years younger than both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. ↩︎︎