In the late 70s, I wandered into a Radio Shack and found a TRS-80, the first “computer” for the new age, without much vision as to where this technology was headed. The original TRS-80 had a microscopic 4 killobytes of RAM. The day I got mine was the first day they upgraded to a whopping 16 killobytes. It took about 30 minutes to upload a chess board from an audio cassette and begin playing (very slowly). Otherwise, it did little, but it was the start of an earth shattering technology that changed the universe, and my life with it…….slowly.
Around 1984, I wandered into a “computer store” (such as it was) looking to see what was coming down the road as the TRS-80 had pretty much stalled. I was aggressively shown the latest in IBM technology, which consisted of the “PC Jr”, an awesome piece of junk that even I as a neophyte recognized as such. The salesman literally apologized for it but said newer things were on the way. I wrinkled my nose and looked around in the vain hope there was something else lying around. There was.
Over in the corner, there lay an obviously radical departure from the rest. I kind of wandered over there to check it out. “What’s this”? The reply was that this was a toy that had no credibility with any serious computer users, a flash in the pan that would soon be relegated to the kid’s toy bin. But I persisted. “Hmmmmm…how does this thing work?” The salesman had no idea, but as I was to find out, the gadget didn’t need an owners manual. The user learned by doing. I bought it immediately, and in 1984 it wasn’t cheap either. About $3000 1984 dollars. Soon, I discovered it needed other expensive add-ons (an Apple staple) including an additional drive to run the system and a few other things. There was only a few extras that worked, VisiCalc and Lotus 3, including a word processing application but all were head and shoulders over the ancient TRS-80. But it was all circular reasoning until the advent of the internet.
Long about 1992 as I recall, Mike Hansen wandered into my office to ask if I had herd of the ‘Internet”, some new phenomenon that got your computer out into the world. No I hadn’t. “So get a phone modem and find this address”. Never heard of any of it. So I trekked down to Radio Shack again and purchased a modem that held a phone in a form fitting cradle, and got into the “system” at agonizingly slow speed. Ultimately I was confronted with a $ sign, Everything I typed into it was greeted with “syntax error”. I must have started at this thing for hours. Then came some inquiries over at Pitt following which I discovered UNIX language and slowly but progressively I discovered the real time world and it radically changed my life. You are reading this missive as a direct result of all I absorbed.
The Apple Computer culture was much, much more than a technology utilization. It was a way of life, much like Harley-Davidson is for many bikers. There were articles in the computer rags detailing the differences between Macintosh and PC affectionatos. PC users were staid, stodgy, businesslike and colorless. Mac users were wild, adventurous, innovative and in many ways immature. Much of that was true. Most of the creative computer users were Mac. Business was the providence of the PC. Mac was easier and creativity was encouraged in the realm of science and education. Most of the early hackers used Macs. Business-types plugged along on PCs with their blinders firmly affixed.
The Mac culture proceeded much in the wake of it’s wild, adventurous, innovative and in many ways immature leader Steve Jobs, about whom much has been written, most of it probably true. Steve’s wicked ways brought him and his followers the wild fluctuations, each yin eventually matched by an obligatory yang, but in the end the highs usually emerged on top. The faithful were never far behind. None of us ever wavered for an instant. Every new development was eagerly and enthusiastically grabbed up, and this continues to this day. It’s difficult to conceive of life without iPhone, and iPad. I believe none of these things would have been created at least in the same realm by anyone associated with PCs.
Steve remains one of the most fascinating people of our age, embodying many flaws, but with an enduring vision unmatched in my opinion by anyone of my generation. As I sit here wondering what the most accurate epitaph might be, it’s apparent that the commencement address he gave at Stanford several years ago is just right. Here it is:
I think this address truly embodies the man, his vision and his ethos. He will truly be missed. I’m not sure at all that we will ever see anyone like him again.
Rest in peace, brother. A job well done.