The Mac turned 30 last week. All across the web we’ve been treated to vintage ads, uncovered videos, wonderful anecdotes and testimonials from legions of people that were, in one way or another, touched by Apple’s creation. And if you haven’t yet seen the company’s own tribute to the Mac: go, right now; it’s spectacular.
I can easily imagine how foreign, odd or slightly mad all this effusion must appear to those on the outside, to people who have never quite understood this emotional tie to a pile of circuit boards, chips and glowing icons. I sometimes wonder myself why the pull is still there, after all these years, using these machines as an integral part of my work, through the bulk of my meandering career. It’s all the more surprising because I really came to it by accident.
My first computer purchase could’ve gone either way: I’d started reading computer magazines at the time and although most publications mentioned the Mac’s advantages in passing, I wasn’t sold and the decision was up in the air. Then one day, I got a phone call: a friend had given my name for a freelance job, working a teleprompter on an internal corporate video shoot for Bell.
The director called me up a couple of days later and asked: “So I hear you’re comfortable with computers right? And you know Macs?”, “Huh…Absolutely…” I replied, lying through my teeth. “Perfect” he said, “See you next Tuesday then.”
It was Thursday.
I had bluffed my way in perfectly but now… Now I needed to get up to speed — fast. And the platform decision had also finally been made for me: it would be a Mac.
I drove to the local electronics store and purchased an LC 630 with, I think, 4mb of ram and a 200mb hard drive. Maybe 250. I came home, set up the computer and spent the next few days immersed in the manual, trying desperately to get ready for the gig. Which included learning how to properly use a mouse. I was knee deep.
When I got there the following Tuesday I was still incredibly nervous but felt confidant I could pull through. It all went without a hitch: they showed me how to use their teleprompter software, told me what they needed from me and soon, those initial jitters faded away; I was in fact beginning to feel pretty good about myself until… The assistant director asked me to eject the floppy disk. Oh. Crap. I sat there, frozen, suddenly realizing I had NO IDEA how to do that. The Mac had come ready to use and I hadn’t purchased any additional software let alone created anything worth saving, so this was a complete and absolute mystery to me. I felt the cold sweats and a mild case of nausea rearing its ugly head… The jig was up: I’d be unmasked, shamed, revealed for the impostor that I really was. Fortunately, there must be a god out there for the foolhardy because she just smiled, oblivious to my mounting terror, and said “Just drag it to the trash!”. I smiled back confidently and went “ I knooooww…” As though I’d simply been daydreaming for a second — or twelve. She looked at me as if nothing had happened: “That’s why we Iove our Macs!”.
Yes. Yes it is.
I sometimes wonder how my life would’ve gone if I hadn’t purchased that first Mac. Because it truly opened the floodgates, allowing everything that came afterwards. Some could certainly make the argument that a Windows PC would’ve had the same effect but I honestly doubt it — I’ve always had very little patience with anything requiring too much maintenance, anything getting in the way of the creative process. I’m not a tinkerer by nature and in those days at least, you had to tinker with a Windows box. I was also thrown into a world where the Mac ruled with an iron fist: these were the first days of the digital revolution in video and multimedia production. I was working on beta versions of Avid’s Media Composer, breaking open Quadra 950s and playing games of SCSI voodoo with striped 9GB drives that each cost more than today’s new Mac Pro… This was the Wild Frontier and in this corner of the universe, Windows very simply did not exist.
I think I may have mentioned this once or twice before… When I was a kid I’d imagine there was a hidden door in my bedroom leading to a secret underground laboratory, my very own private lair where I could construct anything my imagination could conjure up. The Mac became that laboratory; and to this day, even though the attraction has changed — as it usually does in all long-term relationships, the deep rooted thrill settling into a more comfortable, less exalted but just as intense feeling — It still represents infinite possibilities. It’s still an extension of myself, a paintbrush, an empty score, a blank sheet of paper waiting to be filled with ink.
There’s a bittersweet taste to these celebrations, because it marks the passage of time in a very real way. I miss Steve Jobs. I miss knowing he’s out there. I miss those old Macworld Keynotes, the excitement and wide-eyed optimism they filled me with. I miss all of it like I miss the childish thrill of Xmas mornings or the sweet trepidation surrounding a first kiss. Because these things have now all come and gone.
As I watch my 4 year old daughter flying through the iPad UI as naturally as she breathes, it becomes clear these technologies will never be anything but normal to her, like a box of crayons or a bicycle. And I feel all the more privileged to have seen it unfold, to have lived through such a profound transformation.
The Mac is an integral part of the fabric of my kids’ lives. But I do hope with all my heart they’ll get to experience a revolution of their own, that they’ll get to feel that ground shift beneath their feet as we did.
Because man… What a thrill it’s been.
P.S I wish I still had that old 630. But I gave it to my sister and I think they threw it away when it became too obsolete to run anything... So the images in this post are a Macintosh SE that was given to us many years ago. It still works perfectly and Jacob even typed his first letters on its tiny monochrome screen...