technology Uncategorized

30th anniversary of my Mac indifference

This week, Apple celebrated the Macintosh’s 30th anniversary. Pundits, executives, and fanboys lined up to reminisce online, and the team behind the original Mac’s creation gathered for a birthday bash. Most major media outlets posted nostalgic retrospectives.

I’ll be honest; I don’t get it.

On the one hand, I recognize the Mac’s debut as a watershed moment in the history of personal computing. While Apple didn’t invent the windowed interface or the point-and-click GUI, it refined those concepts and neatly packaged them for mainstream consumers. The Mac helped launch the “PC era” and deserves its fair share of credit.

On the other hand, the Mac never meant much to me personally. Growing up, I certainly used Apple’s computers, but they weren’t Macs. They hailed from the venerable Apple II line. I wasted many recesses playing Oregon Trail on my classroom’s Apple IIe (monochrome-green squirrels, beware!). At home, we treasured our Apple IIgs. When Apple finally killed off the Apple II (in favor of the Mac), I fumed.

Since the Apple II’s ignoble end, I’ve barely touched Cupertino’s desktop OS. Neither my family nor my school could afford Macs. And during my college years, I didn’t own my own PC. Instead, I relied on student computer labs, each packed with Windows machines. When I finally bought my first computer in 2007, the decision wasn’t hard. I had finangled my way into an employee discount from Lenovo; my Soviet-looking ThinkPad cost literally half as much as the equivalent svelte Mac.

Today, I am an Apple user; we’ve owned several generations of iOS devices. But we’ve never made the leap to Mac OS, and at this point a switch seems unlikely. My employer runs Windows exclusively, and I know Microsoft’s desktop OS backwards and forwards. Meanwhile, mobile devices may eventually make the Mac irrelevant; tablets are quickly maturing into viable full-time computing platforms.[1]

Looking back, my Mac-indifference comes down to bad timing. As a two-year-old, I was too young to appreciate the Mac’s 1984 debut. As a grad student, I was too poor to seriously consider a Mac. Now, I’m too invested in non-Mac platforms to justify a switch.

What about you? Does the Mac’s thirtieth anniversary bring back fond memories—or does it make you shrug?

  1. I write most of my blog posts (including this one!) on an iPad.  ↩

technology Uncategorized

iPad monism, ThinkPad dualism.

Apple’s iPad.

For decades, there was a stark, definite division between physical objects and consumer electronics. Physical objects (couches and books and food) were sturdy and touchable and straightforward and simple. The computer was obtuse, button-infested, and brimming with circuitry.

Apple’s iPad blurs that line, camouflaging its complexity beneath a real world object: a glass-fronted aluminum tray. Like your coffee table or rug, it’s sturdy and touchable and straightforward and simple. No bramble of cables, no rows of keys, and no modal workstation required. For the first time (Apple claims) a single device can unite your computing and your living. In short, the design is monistic.

Dualistic designs reject this philosophy, holding apart the human and the technological. Computers are computers. Sure, you can hide their circuits with gloss and glass. But they remain peripheral to the most fundamental human experiences: movement, emotion, food, love.

The ThinkPad: buttons, buttons everywhere.

The quintessential dualistic design–the venerable ThinkPad laptop–embodies such separation. It refuses to collapse your digital life into your real life (or vice versa). It’s a machine, bold and unapologetic, a black matte brick bristling with buttons and ports and blinking lights. The lines here are Soviet, martial, polygonal, industrial. The ThinkPad exposes its complexity and refuses to integrate seamlessly into your day-to-day world. In short, the design is dualistic.

Photos courtesy of Adrian S. Jones, inUse Consulting, and Mario Sánchez Prada.