I guess I didn't realize it at first, but somehow Aaron Sorkin has managed to be the narrative historian of virtually every major moment in my adult life. And not just because of the topics he's picked, It's his tone, his style. Rapid-fire dialog that crisscrosses issues, humor, personal conflicts, and a drive to matter. His amplified, or even, some would say, idolized, human drama reflects not what things are -- he doesn't write documentaries, but rather what we hope they are. Which leaves me wondering about where he's taking me next.
It began way back when, with The West Wing. To be fair, I knew that Sorkin's West Wing wasn't a documentary. I had friends who worked in the White House and they were quick to point out that his telling of the daily drama was a romantic version of the real world of politics. But as a viewer, I hardly cared. I wanted to believe that in an alternate universe there was a president who was funny, smart, passionate, committed and driven. That the people who worked in politics at the highest level did so with loyalty, dedication, and a commitment to public service. It hardly mattered that Sorkin's West Wing was aspirational -- in some ways the polar opposite of the White House that was currently running the country -- Sorkin was able to channel and illustrate my hopes and dreams. His storytelling was a light at the end of a long dark tunnel. The West Wing won nine Emmy Awards its first season, making the show a record holder for most Emmys won by a series in a single season. It was, for liberal Hollywood, a hopeful telling of what the White House could be -- should be, in smarter and happier times.
Sorkin's take on Facebook with The Social Network has made plenty of folks unhappy. It isn't a documentary, for sure, and there are plenty of things that aren't true. But the overriding story of the emergence of social media, the power of Facebook, and the human nature of the people behind the emergence of the web certainly rang true. Jed Bartlet is no more Barack Obama than Mark Zuckerberg is Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Sorkin just doesn't work like that. But as a technology founder -- and a believer in what the web can be -- The Social Network was both inspirational and cautionary. Sorkin's voice rang true. Moneyball was another crisp, taught, smart film from Sorkin. Peeling the cover off the new game of baseball and data. A gripping script for sports fans and geeks alike.
Now he's taken his pen back to the realm of politics and public policy with The Newsroom. In its second season, The Newsroom has glimmers of The West Wing -- the inner-workings of institutions that are struggling to balance a passion to do good work with the overarching pressures of money, success, ratings and corporate ownership. The core characters are engaging, but frankly not as complex or human as Donna or Leo or Josh from The West Wing. Maybe news just isn't as gripping as national politics? Or maybe the Sorkinisms are wearing a bit thin.
There are some other Sorkin projects in the works that align with my life. There's a rumored musical based on the life of Harry Houdini with music by Danny Elfman. My fingers are crossed for that -- though he currently says he's out of that project.
But the surprise in all this -- and the one that has me on the edge of my seat -- is the upcoming film Jobs based on the biography by Walter Isaacson. Apple's rise and the change in the nature of personal computing tracks my career. From the first Apple II with the monachrome screen and the floppy disk drive, I've watched as computing shifted from numbers to pictures, from harsh screens to inviting typography and desktop laser printers. I know that the Jobs book has flaws; my friends in the Valley point to facts that they say aren't accurate. But Sorkin has proven that he has the ability to rise above the individuals or the details and find larger symbolic truths in the stories of our time. After all, it's not a biography.
So, with Steve Jobs now gone, and his once fledgling company now a powerful and important world force -- in some strange way I'm hoping that Sorkin's take on Jobs will clarify his complexity, replace a golden halo and cult personality with a more nuanced and complex telling of just what he envisioned and what he build. Sorkin knows it's no easy task. Speaking at the All Things D conference in 2012, he told the crowd of geeks and technologists: "To be honest, one of the hesitations I had in taking on the movie is that it was a little like writing about the Beatles--that there are so many people out there who know so much about him and who revere him that I just saw a minefield of disappointment." He took it on nonetheless. And just to clarify his role, he explained: "Any time you're in the movies and you see on the screen 'this is based on a true story,' you should think of it more as a painting than a photograph, you're going to get an authorial point of view."
Being an entrepreneur is hard. Some days very hard. And understanding the pressures, vision, and sometimes thankless role of a mind like Jobs' could help a generation of startup founders and innovators connect with the ghost of Steve Jobs. That ghost needs to help us finishing building the connected world that he began constructing back in 1976.