It’s a modern-day David and Goliath story, only David is armed with a whistle from a box of Cap’n Crunch, and Goliath is the telecommunications giant AT&T.
“Little Blue Box,” a new short film from FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films’ Signals series, recounts the 1960s battle the between the corporation that ruled telephone wires with a system of tones discovered by a group of hackers known as Phone Phreaks, who could illicitly replicate the phone system to avoid long-distance charges.
Two of those Phreaks were Stanford University students Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. A 1971 Esquire article prompted them to design an improved blue box, which later became the “foundation event” for the creation of the Apple computer.
“If we hadn’t made those little blue boxes, there might never have been an Apple computer.” Jobs says in a documentary that presages history. In addition to Wozniak, the film features interviews with Phone Phreaks Charlie Pine, Tony Lauck and John “Cap’n Crunch” Draper.
The short, available at FiveThirtyEight.com, was produced and directed by David Beilinson, Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky.
Signals, an anthology series from a diverse group of filmmakers, will explore stories where analytics and data meet compelling political, economic, science, lifestyle and sports narratives. Related features and visualizations on FiveThirtyEight will accompany the films to provide greater context. Signals, which is a project out of ESPN content unit Exit 31, launched October 22 with “The Man Vs. The Machine.”