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Kim Phillips: The Woz speaks at UNT

My grandmother was born in Texas in 1912. There were 48 stars on the American flag, and the unsinkable Titanic sank. By the end of her 82 years, she had seen horses give way to automobiles and airplanes. Man rocketed to the moon and walked on it. Penicillin was discovered, smallpox eradicated, television invented, and 48 stars had become 50.

American culture morphed from flappers to the Great Depression, M*A*S*H to Leave It to Beaver, and The Brady Bunch to Friends. The Industrial Revolution became the civil rights revolution that became the sexual revolution.

My grandmother’s world was one of perpetual change on a global scale. She once told me that as a girl, she never imagined all the things she would witness in her life. The idea that the multi-day trip from East to West Texas, which her family trekked on several occasions, would take a mere two hours someday was preposterous. Yet, years later, she made that two-hour flight in awe.

I found myself thinking about the magnitude of change experienced by my grandmother and her peers as I looked forward for weeks to the Woz’s visit to Denton. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple computers, came to Denton last Monday as part of the University of North Texas’ Distinguished Lecture Series. I had my tickets in hand the moment they were released because the Woz in Denton is a big deal! What a great advantage our universities are to Denton.

I doubt there is anyone in America who doesn’t know about Steve Wozniak. He and Steve Jobs founded Apple in 1976 to develop a user-friendly computer alternative to the reigning IBMs that were difficult at best back then. He invented the Apple I and Apple II, and gave average Americans access to computers that previously belonged only to gifted engineering minds. The title of his autobiography, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon, says it all.

So what does the Woz have to do with my grandmother? Not much, really. She missed his impact on the world, having suffered with Alzheimer’s during Apple’s entry into the American home and way of life. But his effect on my world is as massively significant as those dramatic shifts that happened during her life. The Woz, and his peers, in fact, ushered in yet another cultural era, the technology revolution, and it surely has evolved faster than any before.

When I first went off to college, I harbored bizarre fantasies of being a computer science major — bizarre because math beyond the basics and I have never really been a keen match. Nevertheless, my first semester included important classes about keypunches, mainframes, GIGO and a lot more I don’t recall.

Does anyone even remember these high-priced, cutting-edge gotta-haves? They lasted only a minute or two in the big picture because technology changed so fast that the keypunch was history before my computer science career idea died, and that happened in a flash. GIGO held on a long time. It’s an acronym for “garbage in, garbage out.” That’s irrelevant now with the birth of Wikipedia, where anyone’s truth, or garbage, becomes other people’s facts.

Like my grandmother, I was born and have lived my entire life in Texas. Unlike her, however, this revolution has put the world in my pocket. Using Wiki tools, I can know anything about anywhere or anyone using my phone. Last week, while attending a conference in Houston, our team with the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau visited NASA and the mission control room, where the best minds for more than a decade used a room full of high-tech computers to get American astronauts to space and back. I was floored to learn that my little iPhone holds more power than that entire conglomeration. Incredible!

And like I said, I am no engineer, but my iPhone and I get along just fine. The Woz changed our world and set us on a course with no holds barred. As that kid in college, I never in my wildest dreams imagined tiny computers carried by, and necessary to, almost everyone at a cost of just a few hundred dollars. Yet here we are.

An awesome side note to Wozniak’s Denton visit is that he built in a couple of extra days to hang out with his favorite band, Midlake, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. In spite of his star status, or maybe because of Midlake’s, he wanted to experience this original, independent Denton he’d heard about for himself. We have star power, folks, and the Woz just proved it again.

KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton’s original, independent spirit through the city’s sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at