07 October 2011

On Apples and Jobs

It's October and I feel some pressure to create the first post of the month. This post will be a brief history of my involvement with Apple and Steve Jobs. No disrespect is intended.

Once upon a time--I think it was the early 80s--I was sitting around the barracks of my summer Reserve training base on one off-weekend, and I decided to go to the PX. I was killing time mostly, but I paused to look with delight at the latest magical artifacts from the future. There in the corner of the PX was a display of electronic devices called computers. Having spent the bulk of my communication time on a typewriter (writing stories, letters, etc.), and primarily a manual one at that, I was quite fascinated. It was an Apple product.

Noting all of its features and the promise of futuristic simplicity, I wanted to buy it. The price was prohibitive, however, so I gave up the idea. Later, when a relative died and left a little money for me, I went out and bought my first computer. It was not an Apple product; with the $1600 I had, I got a Tandy 1000 computer from Radio Shack. It had a monochrome monitor and two slots for the program floppy disk and the floppy disk where I could save my files. I also got a dot-matrix printer. The computer ran some DOS version more primitive than Windows, but I was in heaven. Later, when I went to Japan for several years, I took with me a "portable computer" weighing 16 pounds, also from Radio Shack.

Productivity aside, I kept to the PC path and eventually found myself back in the USA and in grad school in Texas. I had just returned from Japan--where I first encountered the computer accessory known today as a CD-ROM disk (I laughed at the commercials on Japanese TV, saying "Who'd buy anything that stupid? One scratch and it's ruined." That's right: I am not a visionary). With Yen in the bank, I purchased the best system I could afford: a PC-compatible computer with a hard drive of 1 MB, running Windows 3.1, and a color monitor and a ribbon-cartridge printer. Price: $3000. That was the mid-90s.

However, at my university, the computer labs were stocked primarily with Macintosh computers. At first, I found them difficult to work with; I was thinking too much, thinking of DOS code. Gradually I learned to work with Macs, especially for the graphical work I was doing. I always had to convert files to use them on my PC machine at home, of course. So I always carried around a couple boxes of 3.5" diskettes containing all my necessary files. Still later, I returned to using Macs at a different school, though they had only a few stuck in a separate room away from the main computer lab. For home, however, the Macs always remained out of reach financially and so I stayed on the PC bandwagon even as my friends and colleagues embraced the Macs and subsequent products with gusto.

When it came time to get a laptop for use while traveling, I considered the Macbook but bought an HP instead, then when it gave out, a Toshiba. I remember going into the Best Buy store with my lame HP laptop, hoping to get it repaired. As I waited, I wandered over to the big Apple display to have a look. A salesman there asked me if I were interested in their latest product. I could have made the perfect TV commercial for Apple by what I replied: "That's all right, I'm just here to get my PC repaired."

The iPod attracted me, a music aficionado, yet as less-expensive copy devices became available, I opted for those. The iPhone has more features than I would know what to do with, plus I already had a cell phone. I thought the iPad was cool yet I bought a Netbook. The iPad2, or whatever the official name is, further attracts me, yet as long as my Netbook is working I don't feel the need to go with my fanciful side and dive into the Apple barrel.

I've never had anything against Apple, its products, or its founder Steve Jobs. I admired it all from afar. I've cheered their success, loved their advertising, smiled at controversies. I was an Apple/Mac wannabe. There was a certain cachet, a smugness, perhaps, in the users of Apple products, particularly in my early encounters, that I did not want to be a part of. Although I never felt particularly cool or comfortably a part of the crowd of PC users (or usees, in the more accurate vernacular), I was set early onto a path I felt I could not easily extricate myself from. And so much of my life has passed by as I waited for the right moment to make my move and join the 21st century.

Now, as if seeing my life pass before my eyes, founder Steve Jobs has passed away. We are close to the same age, close enough that I feel sad and awkward and find something missing in my world that wasn't missing a few days ago. I went out to eat dinner between a day at school and an evening of grading student papers. At the next table was a woman using an iPad2, the new, skinny thing that looks like half a placemat, something so delicate and fragile I'd be afraid to actually use it. I know how clumsy I am, after all.

The timing of all of this is not significant, yet I want to get something before it is too late for me. A major era in technology may have just ended, yet so much continues without diminishment. You can find elsewhere on the Internet lists of things Steve Jobs has done, foreseen, visualized, and made happen. My recent involvement in the Steampunk movement (where what's old is new again) makes the contrast all the more clear. And so, without further adieu, and having no other motive, I am on my way to make a purchase. I want something that will continue without diminishment, something that will keep me young.

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