I was a Mac geek when being a Mac geek was certainly NOT cool.
Before that, I was a computer nerd when being into computers and liking Apple products were even less cool. Now, I’m an enthusiastic Apple user and fan in an age where there are many who love and many who hate the company. Whether it’s 1985 or 1993 or 2011, I’ve been there. Not for the mindless and detestable need to fit in or to join the equally mindless knee-jerk detractors in their pointless whine-fest, but because I love Apple products and the joy and productivity they’ve brought to my life.
It started in 1983, before the Macintosh was even a consumer reality. For a brief time, I was both fortunate and unfortunate enough to attend a high school in a rather wealthy community in which I certainly did not fit — economically, socially, ad infinitum. However, what this school did have in the early-1980s was a computer lab to beat the band. Dozens and dozens of Apple ][e machines aglow with alternating amber and green ASCII-strewn monitors. Already pulled headlong into computer geekdom by the then-recent cinematic offerings of Tron and War Games, I gravitated to this near-empty room on a regular basis, box of multi-colored 5 1/4″ floppy discs in hand, ready to play the original Castle Wolfenstein, Lemonade Stand, Oregon Trail, and code out some BASIC programs for my own seemingly endless amusement.
“Someone hand that kid a pocket protector and a Mountain Dew, for crying out loud!”
So, like a cheap teenage tech whore, I moved through a number of computers during the 1980s — the TI-99/4A, the Color Computer 2, the Commodore 64, various IBM machines and more — but I always came back to Apple. During senior year in my not-too-well-financed high school (the third of four, if keeping score), my graphic arts class somehow managed to acquire a Mac. This was the original 128k (or possibly the 512k “Fat Mac”) model in all of its monochromatic glory. Given that most kids were still frightened about what would happen to them socially if they so much as touched a keyboard, a buddy of mine and I were the only two people who chose to use it. A lot of good design projects and mindless fun stuff (thank you, MacPaint!) came out of all of that. It was a great age and time period to discover the Mac.
It was also a great time to embrace a personal philosophy of self-reliance and mindful rebellion — one which Apple, with its signature (forbidden?) fruit with the bite missing, also practiced. Like another mythological expulsion, two kids from Cupertino defied the status quo, gathered incomplete ideas, made some of their own, mixed it all together and created their own kingdom. I found such a push for excellence to not only be chillingly relatable but, even to this day, exponentially inspiring — on a creative level, a technical level AND an aesthetic level. And all three have mattered.
By the time the 1990s came, Apple was feeling the pains of losing its primary founder/visionary. These were dark times for the former rebellion, saddled with CEOs who had no real clue how to keep the Mothership aloft. Back then, people weren’t exactly camping outside of Apple reseller stores, waiting to be the first to purchase an LC II or a Performa 550, or one of the countless Power Mac xx00 iterations. Even the desperate attempt at licensing clone machines was, shall we say, not hopeful. But whether it was poor management, bad marketing decisions, or model overload, as long as they were still in business and making quality machines, I was in for the long haul. Much of what this down time for Apple meant for me was that my love of (now) Macs and the Mac OS was shared by less and less people, and that was perfectly fine by me. I was a lone wolf, a rebel. You know, real Pee-Wee Herman stuff. But I also was a broke college student with no means to acquire this coveted computer.
Enter the free Mac. I won a Macintosh Classic by way of one of the many, many contests in which my grandmother laboriously entered me and the rest of the clan over the decades. From this machine came my first zine, and then later other print titles from my Quadra 605, Powerbook 150, grape iMac G3, and Power Mac G4 (not to mention a local university’s Mac lab, from which I stole lab and printer time as a non-student), just to mention a few. Other projects as well, such as CDs, websites, books, DVDs, online video, public access television production, documentaries, Internet radio, podcasting, various promotional items and other media I’m no doubt forgetting right now. Needless to say, it was an amazing time in my life and a lot of creative output from these marvelous machines was had — without the hindrance of viruses, crashes, freezes, driver conflicts, counterintuitive controls, deck sync issues, poor memory management, clunky interfaces, and a host of additional nonsense experienced on other platforms over the last twenty years. Oh, I certainly dabbled. More than enough to know what I didn’t want.
It’s funny to think that both my 25-year-old Mac Plus and the slightly older Apple external hard drive that goes with it are in perfect working condition. In fact, all 33 Apple computers in my collection are fully operational. Sometimes, you really do get what you paid for. Sometimes, it even lasts.
Unfortunately, we humans were not built to last. On October 5, 2011, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. And at 56, that’s far too soon to go. Even as a middle-aged man, I greatly sense my own fragile mortality — but more so when someone who’s gained my respect has died before his time. It sets a lot of gears (or, circuits, if you like) into motion for me. When another very respected man within my sphere of consideration passed away in 1997, I got to work.. and then some! Go look at my output from the end of that year on forward, and you’ll get it. I felt that the one way I could tribute a great man and his works was to do the things I love, do them well, and do them in great abundance. With the passing of Mr. Jobs, I am once more thrown into the fray of my own determination and drive (this time, in matters of career), knowing now more than ever that life is short and not to waste a single moment. Corny but applicable.
It’s been said that the world needs heroes, but I’m not so sure that most people want them. Rock stars, perhaps, but not heroes. Not these days. Heroes remind us that we need to do more — to BE more — and when put to brass tacks, the masses certainly don’t want to do any more than is necessary to survive and escape. Heroes — that is, real heroes — aren’t hip or in fashion, and they certainly aren’t “cool.” They require your recognition of superior traits in them and a desire to achieve excellence by such inspiration in yourself. It certainly isn’t accomplished by stupid Mac vs. PC pissing contests or indiscriminately buying every Apple product because your friends do or making sure as many people as possible see you using your iPhone. That’s not thinking differently. That’s not even thinking.
Steve Jobs, living or dead, is certainly one of my heroes. It’s not cheap identification by profusely bleating, “Look at me, I’m a part of Apple and I matter, I’m one of YOU, please accept me!” And I certainly don’t feel the transparent need to tear down someone else’s dead role model in order to feel discerning or powerful or above it all — or, worse, as an infantile reaction to the aforementioned cheap identifiers. I already did nursery school. Enough to grow up and be able to know that the very practical inspiration I’ve gained from Steve Jobs and Apple, Inc. (and you too, Woz!) has profoundly aided me in excelling in the things I’ve already done but also in the things I’m doing right now. Things you might not know about. Things that I consider “insanely great.”
So, goodbye, Mr. Jobs. And thank you.