To be someone, do something

Steve Wozniak addresses the crowd at the 2023 Paul Bunyan GigaZone Gaming Championship and TechXpo. (PHOTO: Paul Bunyan Communication)

Everybody wants to be somebody. That’s the premise behind shows like “American Idol” and most campaigns for the state legislature. This quest for “being” is a tough road, though. Once you are something, you realize you want to be something else. Then you get older and you used to be something. Eventually, you “were.” And then what?

Words like “is,” “are,” and “were” exemplify passive verbs. There’s a reason English teachers and newspaper editors try to root them out. (Usually unsuccessfully, as I shall soon demonstrate). Active verbs do something. They might soar and they might sputter, but action verbs excoriate ambiguity.

In my personal efforts to become somebody, I actually learned that we “are,” generally speaking, what we “do.” I will admit to wanting to be a more famous writer, but found that I am compelled to write for much deeper reasons than fame. In fact, I would (and have) written for an audience of one, or none, just to get the words out of my head. The act of writing makes one a writer. The same is true of almost anything.

Ask most any great inventor.

On April 22, Paul Bunyan Communication held its annual Gigazone Gaming Event at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. This year, the event included the first annual Gigazone TechXpo featuring an appearance by pioneering computer engineer Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. 

Wozniak’s appearance on stage with Paul Bunyan CEO Gary Johnson was more of a conversation, less a keynote address. It’s funny to think of Wozniak earning an appearance fee to tell stories about the pranks he pulled in college. Then again, not everyone’s college pranks involved accidentally creating the tech sector that now shapes the world’s economy and culture. 

“I wasn’t going to start an industry,” said Wozniak of his youthful obsession with circuits, wires and code. “I wanted to own a computer.”

At the time of his early experimentation, computers filled entire floors of massive 1960s office buildings. A computer required a highly-trained staff to maintain the complex device, which scorched through massive amounts of energy to complete tasks that cell phones now do with a tap of a finger.

Wozniak wanted a computer that could fit in his house. That option didn’t exist at the time. So he made one. And then a better one. Eventually, the Apple II provided millions of people, including me, their first experience with a personal computer.

Wozniak did very well in his career, but he’s not a billionaire. That’s by design. Early on, he gave a large chunk of his Apple stock to employees, something his partner Steve Jobs refused to do. Not being a billionaire doesn’t bother him, because he never wanted to be one. He wanted to build a computer. He did. Then he built other things that interested him. 

Wozniak’s doing had many effects on our lives today. We not only have personal computing devices in our homes; they’re in our pockets. But in a great irony, the visionary “doing” of early computer pioneers begat an era of passivity. People scroll on their devices for hours, looking for something to entertain them while affirming who they “are.”

Now artificial intelligence is rapidly advancing, answering questions and simulating the so-called lives we’ve created for ourselves. In fact, AI could easily create an online persona that resembles that of your friend, relative or even a girlfriend or boyfriend who seems real until you invite them over. A few dozen AIs could influence how you vote in the next election. In fact, you should expect this to happen next year.

Indeed, AI’s imperfections are frightening. Some of the apps I’ve tested create wrong answers that sound right. They perform this task better than even the wiliest BS artist. The rapacious demand for lower costs and more profits will create a dangerous incentive to further dehumanize our society through misinformation.

“The human is more important than the technology,” said Wozniak in Bemidji. “Doing what is right comes down to emotions. [Artificial intelligence] can’t replace feelings.”

Later, he framed coming technological change.

“It’s not humans versus technology,” he said. “It’s love versus money.” 

Status and wealth often, though certainly not always, result from taking action. But the least of us can take action that defines our value far better than money. 

You can go a lifetime thinking that love is passive, something you “have” or “are in,” or not. But love is fundamentally a verb. An active one. 

Love, higher purpose and a better world. We don’t just sign up for these things. We make them. Our lives are what we do. 

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, May 27, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. joe musich says

    Yep… “It’s not humans versus technology,” he said. “It’s love versus money.” There will be those who say “those who can’t teach”, you know the old idiom, to suggest that teachers are lower form of life. Woznaik will also be the first to say he is not a god which is another quality of which we need more demostrating in the species. But the irony of tne presentation being made in another building named after the “S” word.
    Thanks much kind sir,

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