Up until a few years ago I had a big, garish yellow squarish carrying case that we kept in our attic. I must have gotten it from someone in the late 80’s. Heavily padded around the insides, it was a Mac bag that would help you make an early Mac, (pre-SE I think), a portable computer. We all laughed at that idea at the time, even though the bag included a brochure with photos of handsome executives lugging this bag around with smiles on their faces. It was never quite a laptop although the aspiration was always there.
The first real Apple computer was a Mac IIx. With a laser printer and monitor it cost my first business around $20,000. I still manage to impress a few people in the “can you believe how much my first computer cost” discussions when I mention this. I remember jumping on it the moment we set it up and getting into my first, pre-internet, timeless reverie of playing, gaming and worrying about how to turn it off, only ended by realizing that suddenly it was 11 PM. I’d been on the computer for 5 hours and hadn’t really done anything. Some things never change.
I also remember the instruction manual, which for all of its brilliance and user friendliness pointed out that if we had a problem we couldn’t figure out we should “ask other Mac users if they’d experienced the same thing”. The idea that maybe somehow we could figure it together smacked of some sort of corporate irresponsibility to me then, but is almost second nature today.
Our shop was a Mac shop and in a bizarre twist I became the de facto network administrator. AppleTalk was so simple and intuitive at the time that it was second nature to dive right in, figure out the problem and look real smart in front of whomever I’d just solved the problem for. It was pretty much the same for everything within that early Mac ecosystem. It was simple and approachable. It made me into a techie without even trying.
At the same time, early 90’s, we couldn’t afford a new home computer so we bought an Apple IIe for next to nothing through my father-in-law. I remember buying floppy disks via mail order and reading the prophetic advice in the user manual that someday computers would include something called a hard drive which might possibly, some day, hold as much as 5 Megabytes of information!!
I discovered the Web and moved to PC’s at the same time. PC’s weren’t my choice, it was mandated by my jobs. Windows 3.1 shocked me with its DOS prompts, but I got used to it. But Mac’s were for the creatives now; I was working more with words, spreadsheets and PowerPoint (though I did really miss Persuasion). At the same time I found that my facility with computers stayed and grew mainly because of the fact that my Mac experience was like my first language. Macs created the syntax and the grammar that informed my computing experience. I judged everything else based on that experience and that experience made everything else more readily approachable.
One of the first things I did after leaving my job was go to the Apple store and buy a new MacBook Pro. I’d been on PC’s for over 15 years and it seemed to me that this would be a perfect, symbolic break from the world that I was leaving into a world where I would be back to defining my own path. There were other reasons too. I was already totally invested in other parts of the Apple world: iPhone, iPad and even a Nano on a watchband. Using it for the first time and hearing the clunky startup bong felt like a welcome back. As I’ve used it more and more I’ve found plenty of reasons to fall in love again. I happen to love the OSX swipes, the plug and play ease is still there, and the design keeps delighting me. At the same time I’m disappointed in the Apple closed system mentality, especially around images, and I just can’t get around under the hood like I used to.
Macs were my introduction to the world of computing, but more to the idea that I could extend my mind, my fingers and eyes into possibilities I hadn’t really imagined. In a way the Web was just a natural extension of that experience. Macs gave me the initial boost and head start into this world. They weren’t perfect. They were high priced, elitist and headstrong, just like one of their inventors. At the same time their elegance, delight, simplicity and hardheaded persistence of vision, just like their founder, has been grateful company for me.