It’s always strange to be a fan of something before it’s cool; to have to suffer the teasing and the laughter for liking something that everyone else ridicules only to see those same people won over to your side when that thing you like becomes trendy and cool.
There are many examples but my personal favorite is Apple Computer. Apple is by far the coolest computer company around, but it wasn’t always that way and those of us who’ve stuck by it through thick and thin still remember the dark days when Apple struggled and Windows was the hottest ticket in town.
I had no way of escaping my devotion to Apple. It was thrust upon my subconscious from an early age. I know because I found this clip from my family’s audio archives of Mom and Dad asking me to identify objects on some flashcards they were holding in front of me. One was apparently an apple so Dad decides to “trick” me by holding up the picture of the apple and asking me, “What’s your favorite kind of computer?”
My dad’s cleverer than most dads. For the first 8 years of my life, he taught computer science at the university. He had a gift for learning and implementing computer programing languages. He was one of the pioneers in the field, working with those strange computers of the late sixties that filled entire rooms yet could only do a fraction of what our smallest computers are capable of today. I still remember Dad bringing home stacks of used computer punch cards for my sister and me to play with.
In 1987 and 1988 we were living in Fort Worth, Texas and Dad was transitioning into the corporate world. He went from being a computer science professor to being a software engineer. Along the way, he bought our family’s first home computer: an Apple Macintosh SE with two floppy disk drives, a mouse, and a standard keyboard with a Rodime 20MB hard disk and an Apple Imagewriter II printer to go with it.
In the meantime, my friends’ parents were buying them that new Nintendo system with Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. I asked my dad if I could have one too, but he said no. We didn’t need video games. We had a computer.
My next question, then, was what games were on this new computer? My sister and I investigated. The screen was grey and white so it certainly didn’t have the fun colors Nintendo had. But there was one game on there called Dungeon of Doom in which our main character wandered through a checker-board like realm with magic wands and scrolls with magic spells to help kill monsters and progress to more challenging levels.
Later, Dad bought us educational games like Word Blaster and Math Blaster. Buick sent us a golfing game. There was also one called Glider and a fake psychologist called Eliza. Later on we added Oregon Trail and Where in the U.S. is Carmen Sandiego?
My first real computer class was back in 1988 when I was in second grade at Fort Worth Academy. The school computer lab was full of IBMs and Apple IIs. The teacher taught us how to type and the very basics of a programing language called BASIC. The typing bit was set up like a game. The faster and more accurately we typed, the higher we scored.
The computer teacher was very fond of her Macintosh, even though that wasn’t what her students used. She liked how portable it was. The idea of having the hard-drive and the monitor in one unit was truly innovative. She frequently brought her Mac to and from work with her for her own personal use.
My dad’s work ultimately brought us to Arizona at the very end of 1991. Our first Macintosh traveled with us and hung on for a couple more years. My new elementary school, Salk, also had a computer lab and this time it was filled with Apple computers and they were all networked together. This meant that when given the opportunity, we could play Oregon Trail with a wagon train and send pop-up messages from one computer to another – a primitive form of instant messaging.
The computers at school were newer than what I had at home. I mean, these beauties had full color screens! If only we could have something like this at home! Imagine the games I could play!
By that time, personal computers were becoming much more affordable and many of my friends’ parents were purchasing them for the first time. But they weren’t buying Apple and their reasons seemed pretty sound: PCs were cheaper and most of the new software was made for the PC including the hottest computer games.
When Windows ’95 came out, Apple people, like my dad and me, became the underdogs of the computing world.
Dad upgraded our own computer, but refused to buy anything other than an Apple. His famous argument was: “At work, where I don’t have a choice, I use a PC. At home, where I have a choice, I use an Apple computer.”
I quoted my dad to my friends. My dad has a Ph.D. in Computer Science, after all. He also said that everything Windows ’95 boasted of Mac had come up with long before. Like that easy icon-based user interface – All Mac.
Perhaps it’s just that nobody likes to be told they’re wrong and Apple is more expensive.
“You’re paying for quality, my dear,” says my dad.
By 1999, Dad had added a second computer to his collection and decided to let me take one with me to college. At that time he subscribed to a magazine called Mac Addict, which came with a CD-ROM as part of each issue. The early editions included a short video of a PC being punished in various ways: “PC walks the plank” and “drag a PC.” The first video just showed a bunch of guys beating up a PC (“hey look! It’s a PC!” they said as they ran toward it with baseball bats).
Apple had begun rolling out a new computer back then. It was brightly colored, all-in-one monitor and hard drive (like the original), and advertised as a simple plug in and start. I really wanted one of those, but Dad told me I’d have to take the old computer. But at least Mac Addict had an article about how to spray paint your computer and I was able to bring a colorful, blue computer to my freshman year of college.
I lived on campus my first three years of college and that meant I was able to hook my computer up to the Ethernet, this magical, high-speed internet that my roommate mostly used to download stuff from Napster. My parents didn’t even have a second phone line for their dial-up Internet. Far too often I called home only to land on the busy signal – again.
My sophomore year, I saved my parents some money by switching to an instate university thereby justifying the purchase of a lime-colored iMac.
I took it to Northern Arizona University with me. Right away my new roommate made fun of it. It was cute but justifiably inferior to her Windows-based IBM. Her IBM, after all, was also an all-in-one computer and monitor only it was smaller and much more sophisticated.
I defended the iMac as best as I could, but she would not be swayed. I had to admit, she was smarter than me. I mean, I was a political science major and she was studying physics – on purpose! She was even bold enough to say, “Physics is fun!”
My best friend and her roommate lived in the same building and frequently popped in to say hi or just hang out. I had a Jar Jar Binks inflatable chair that was surprisingly comfortable. I admit it wasn’t pretty, but it was otherwise worth the $3 I’d paid for it.
My roommate hated the chair almost as much as she hated my iMac. So my best friend “kidnapped” the Jar Jar Binks chair and left a ransom note. In it she told me to “Yell ‘I love IBM’s’ three times in the union at lunch time.” I managed to steal the chair back without having to do anything irrational, but still, to make me profess a love for any computer other than Apple would be torture!
I went away to France for 9 months and didn’t bring a computer with me. The year was 2002. The universities and Internet cafés were mostly comprised of Windows-based computers. I adapted. After all, I really just needed them for email. All academic papers in France back then had to be handwritten anyway.
I started feeling the tides change when I switched universities again in 2004. By then Apple Stores with their Genius Bars had begun to sprout up across the nation and this music device known as the iPod became extremely popular.
Suddenly I began to hear the word Apple spoken of in a positive light. Graphic designers, musicians, filmmakers, and animators came out of the woodwork claiming they’d been using Apple on purpose for many years. It was the premier choice of the creative class.
Steve Jobs became a cultural icon and a hero. Each new announcement he made, from the iPhone to the iPad, was greeted with joy and anticipation. In the end, Jobs was revered almost like a god. Perhaps that’s why I, too, cried when he died.
Today I use my iPod, iPad, iMac, and MacBook Air for almost all my creative endeavors. But my life has not been blessed with financial success. For this and other reasons, all my recent Apple devices have been gifts from my dad who still believes I am, whether I see it or not, part of the creative class and what better tool for creativity than an Apple computer?