30 Years of Mac

Mac SE
The Macintosh SE – Creative Commons (Dana Sibera)

I can’t quite claim to have been a Mac user for the entirety of the thirty-year run being celebrated today. While my father was an early adopter of the Apple IIe, I don’t think we got our first Mac until 1989-90, an SE that sits (still functionial) in his office to this day; and then there was the regrettable three-year stretch in grad school when I simply needed a cheap laptop for my dissertation research travels, and I inflicted a Gateway on myself. But the first computer I ever bought for myself was an early PowerBook, proudly purchased with the accumulated savings of two summers’ worth of high school employment so that I could be on the cutting edge of higher education. (I still ended up taking almost all of my notes in college by hand; to this day, I’m surprised how few of my students use a laptop, tablet, or other device to take notes.) And I even stuck with Apple (ah, the Power Mac…) through the dark days of the non-Jobs years in the mid-Nineties. Then after the soul-crushing interlude with a cheap Windows machine, I got my job at Bethel and virtually jumped out of my chair to seize the MacBook option offered to new employees.

As it happens, I destroyed my MacBook Pro Wednesday night, while picking our kids up from church, when I left it in the backseat of our car, right under the spot where my daughter’s legs would dangle from her booster seat — salty snow from the parking lot melting from the bottom of her shoes straight into the top of my poor computer. Alas, that’s only the second-stupidest way I’ve killed a MacBook — I don’t think it quite matches the time I left a bottle of water uncapped and knocked it over in the middle of demonstrating a Mussolini gesticulation in my Modern Europe class. It never had a chance; I watched the PowerPoint fizzle and die…

But I digress: the key in that story is that when I dropped off the dead machine at our IT help desk yesterday morning, they asked if I wanted a loaner for the day… I took a look and said with as little disdain as possible, “It’s a Dell.” Then went upstairs to the library and checked out a Mac.

PowerBook 150
Creative Commons (Dana Sibera)

I have no especially deep reflections to offer here beyond this: I love Mac as much as — and probably more than — any consumer should love a product. Enough to get by with maybe a thirtieth of the video game options available to my PC-using friends in high school. Enough to spend more than I should have as a new college student, and to regret being frugal years later as a grad student. Enough it to have wept just a bit when I realized what I’d done to my most recent model the other day.

Why? Some of it is nostalgia, which is an odd emotion to feel for a technology on the cutting edge of a digital revolution. And then there’s the ridiculous tribalism fed by years of taking shots from and delivering shots to friends who labor in Bill Gates’ fields.

No doubt I’ve been successfully manipulated by a company that is about as good at not being evil as any of its competitors.

But cynicism aside… First, Macs are — forgive me for how silly this sounds — beautiful. Everything about them suggest that their makers think that aesthetics matter.

But more importantly, to me Mac has always stood for democratization, a leveling of knowledge and progress. So, like technology writer David Morgenstern, I’ve never understood one common anti-Mac grievance:

…the attacks against the Mac platform (and really against its iOS mobile cousins) continue sounding the same tropes from the middle 1980s: The Mac is simply eye candy, an elite machine that is a waste of time and money.

These shots have bewildered this Mac fan since 1984.

As I pointed out in a post on the Mac’s 25th Anniversary, the first hurdle for the Mac in technology and market acceptance was about the graphical user interface. Period. Should computing be done with a command line or with an understandable GUI. It’s incomprehensible to us today.

Macs have always been more expensive, so I guess I can entertain that dimension of the “elite” accusation. Except that, as long as I could remember, Apple has demonstrated a commitment (both noble and self-serving) to the education sector. And why not? It made computers that a small child could and should use. Indeed, my career as a writer began — even before the Mac, with that Apple IIe — when my ten-year old self was able to write and edit a family newspaper.

And today, I’m astonished at how adept my four-year olds already are with an iPad — GUI for a new age. Now, if only they would stop cracking the pass code…


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