I’ve got a friend who has worked on the Macintosh computer since “before day one,” as he puts it. Seems he worked at a think tank in Palo Alto, heart of Silicon Valley, and saw the “two Steves” (Jobs and Wozniak) bring a prototype in to show to some folks who’d been influential in the design. People like Andy Hertzberg and Bob Metcalfe (the latter invented Ethernet).
My friend, whom we will call “EJ,” has been waxing nostalgic of late over the spate of “Mac’s 25th Birthday” articles in both the tech and popular press. It brought to his mind the incredible advances made, not just in the Mac world but the tech universe as a whole. I thought I’d share his recent “love letter” to the Mac that he distributed this past week. To get around having to put in quote marks or make the whole thing italics, I will separate his story with a dashed line, because I will be back after the tale with a closing remark or two.
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As soon as I saw that first, little Macintosh box, the 128K model, I was hooked. What’s this funny thing? I wondered, looking at what now seems like a quaint antique, the first Mac mouse. Wow! Hooked!
I used other people’s (and companies’) Macs for the first year, then bought the first model that would support an external hard drive, the Plus. As I recall, it listed at $1799. This little beauty had an 8MHz 68000 Motorola CPU, a high-density (1.44MB) floppy drive and a 9-inch monochrome screen – but it did have a SCSI port! I attached a 20MB hard drive from Seagate that cost me $800.
I used that same little Mac for almost ten years. In fact, when I took it back to Boston for a managing editor gig with a political magazine, I brought it with me. When the mag’s punched-paper-roll Atex publishing system went down, we put out a few 44-page issues of a four-color magazine with it, using Aldus PageMaker software (which was at version 2 or 3, I believe). It was a real workhorse, although today you can carry more computing power on your wrist with a “smart watch.”
Just consider the advances in 25 years. I now work on both PCs and Macs (as I always have), and the 24-inch iMac I have runs at 2.16GHz and can do just about anything – for $600 less that the Mac Plus. For extra storage, I just bought a 2TB Firewire 800 hard drive, for about $300. Here’s the math on the hard drive progress: It has 100,000 times the storage capacity of my first hard drive, for less than half the price. If anyone wants to know what capitalism does, this is a sterling example.
It is fun to read the 1980’s and 1990’s Mac magazines (or any tech mags, actually) to remind myself what was being predicted for the future that has now arrived. No one prognosticated very well, actually. The present crop of touch-screen PDA’s and miniature netbooks and WiFi devices up the wazoo – no one had a clue. Therefore, I don’t trust anyone, least of all myself, to make any predictions about where this is all going. I am happy just to be along for the ride.
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EJ loves his tech stuff, that’s for sure. I have a rather different relationship with computers, viewing them as tools, but have just as much respect for the minds that make them as anyone else. I simply cannot imagine going back to “the old ways,” with manual entry bookkeeping, page layout with waxers and paste-up boards, all that laborious stuff. No thanks!
As EJ says, we can’t even begin to know what lies around the corner. It’s hard enough keeping up with the things that we know about, much less all the things happening just under the surface. A few things are clear, though. Technology keeps getting more powerful even as it gets cheaper and more widespread. As for the effects? I will leave that to the sociologists – or maybe my next article!