Steve Jobs: A Quality of Expectation

I do not own an Apple computer.  I do all my work on PCs because, well, it worked out that way.

I had an Apple.  First-generation MacIntosh, to be precise.  It didn’t last.

My partner, Donna, got interested in computers back in the early and mid-80s.  When I say “interested” I mean on the level of “hm, that looks cool, I wonder what it would be like to…”  and not on the level of “that way lies the future, we gotta have one!”  Being somewhat dense when it came to reading her enthusiasms (and separating hers from my own), by various strange avenues, she ended up getting a MacIntosh for Christmas.  Computer and printer.

Her enthusiasm lasted a month.  She’d gotten a job with a small tech company and worked on PCs all day and when she came home at night, the last thing she wanted to do was more work on a computer, even if it was hers.  Besides—and this may sound odd—the MacIntosh was too easy to use.  She was interested in the programming and the guts and the software.  The MacIntosh was plug-n-play before there was plug-n-play and the software available for it—because it was Apple, it was all proprietary—was expensive!  We acquired a math program and something else.

I was writing on my IBM Selectric.  The MacIntosh just sat there.

Then it broke down.

This is embarrassing.  The motherboard was flawed and one day it just went comatose.  However, because we had used it so little, we didn’t push it to failure until it was out of warranty.  We didn’t know it was the motherboard.

But before that we had run up against some of the annoying short-comings of the MacIntosh, one of which was file size.  I decided to try writing stories on it.  The rudimentary word processing program—MacWrite—was fine except I could never figure out how to put headers on it and the maximum file size was something like 8 or 9 pages.   That wasn’t the annoying part.  What was annoying was that it would let you get there and then lock up.  There wasn’t enough memory left to delete anything so you could, you know, save the file.  So if you didn’t take care—if, for instance, you got caught up in the story you were telling—you’d reach that limit and then lose the whole file.

(To be fair, this might have been an issue with that flawed motherboard, but we didn’t know, it was just maddening.)

It really was kind of a useless thing in our house.

But it was also kind of very cool.  I mean, I write science fiction.  I was looking at PCs and thinking “that’s not what computers are supposed to look like—the Mac is!”  And I really wanted it to work right, to be as cool as it looked.  There was something about it that prompted an “if only” sentiment.

Then I got accepted to Clarion.  We decided I could take the Mac for my writing instrument.  We got it fixed.  That’s when we found out it was the motherboard.  At the same time, we upgraded the memory (to ONE megabyte!) and bought an external floppy drive for it.

Because we had also discovered by then how difficult it was to translate Mac files to PC (to get a decent print out—-we had an AppleWriter dot matrix printer and I frankly never found a font that was usable; you have to recall that this was at a time when magazines and publishers were refusing to accept dot matrix manuscripts and I wanted to get clean laser printer copies, but the only laser printer we had access to was at Donna’s work, which was for PC…) we intended to trade it in on a PC when I got back, but it was just the right size for the trip.

I was the only one at Clarion with a Mac.  Everyone hated the printer fonts I used.

Also, there was a heatwave that year in Michigan and the Mac turned out to be very susceptible to overheating.  I had a small fan which I ended up training on the Mac.  I backed up often to the external drive.  It was a trial.

I was so glad to trade it off for a usable PC.

But I always had a soft spot for the idea of the Mac and later when they started coming out with better models and then the massive improvements after the whole Lisa thing made it the hardware to have, I wanted one.  But by then I was doing all my work on PC and I was online and publishing worked almost exclusively with PC and and and…

And Apple products were so damn expensive!

Aside from that first generation MacIntosh, we have only ever owned one brand new computer.  And now the PC products seem to be as cool as the Apple, so…

It’s fairly obvious that the coolness of newer PCs, the improvements in speed and reliability, the slick programs available, all that came about as a direct response to the challenge of Apple and Steve Jobs.  Jobs created something with growing gravitic force that has been bending the rest of the computer verse into orbit around it.

And Apples are science fiction computers.  I’m speaking aesthetically now.  What they do, how they look, the ease of interface—this is where it should be according to the scenarios playing in the heads of science fiction writers.

I would like to upgrade all my computers to Apples.  I’ve wanted to do that for years.  It’s like really wanting to drive a high end, state of the art car, wear Armani suits, play a Les Paul, and drink only the best wine.  It’s a Leica to everyone else’s Nikon, Luxman to Sony, Bose to a box with a speaker in it.

Steve Jobs made people want better.

Not everyone.  A lot of people wouldn’t know “better” if it walked up and introduced itself.  But many people.  And he made them feel they deserved it.

And that there is a reason for better.  This last may seem odd, but think about it.  Many people settle.  They get by.  They manage.  They accept what they think they have to and make do.

From time to time someone has to remind us that quality is not only justified but essential.  That life shouldn’t be shabby just because we don’t think we can have better.  For all the technical innovations Jobs spurred and enabled and midwived, it was this aesthetic for which he will long be remembered.  He never settled.  He didn’t think we should, either.

One of the years, I’ll own a Mac again.

Published by Mark Tiedemann