A Brief Moment of Thanks for How Things Aren’t

| Computing with Bifocals

This past Halloween night I was listening to an Apple Context Machine Podcast with Jeff Gamet and Bryan Chaffin. Their topic was A World Without Apple. I never miss Jeff and Bryan’s podcasts because within their very weird humor they provide a fascinating look at the industry as a whole. Besides, I like to see how many times they break each other up. 

In this particular program which followed soon after Steve Jobs’s death, they focused not so much on Mr. Jobs’s contribution to our lives, great as that has been, but on the contribution of the company as a whole. 

Right in the middle of it I was suddenly struck with a memory that had not surfaced in many years. See, I am not yet at the age where all I can remember is the “old” stuff. In any event, when thinking about it, I was vividly struck with how thankful I am that things aren’t the way they were back then.

1960 - When Men Were Men and Computers Were for Businessmen

1960 - When Men Were Men and Computers Were for Businessmen

This situation happened in the mid 80s. I was living in a mid-sized town in Colorado and working as the CEO of a mid-sized nonprofit agency. I supervised three staff and about 15 volunteers. I was in my mid 40’s, and as was appropriate at that time and place, I wore suits and heels to work every day. My secretary was in her late 20’s and she also wore appropriate attire to the office. We had a grant (didn’t everyone back then?) and we needed new office computers and printers so my secretary and I went out to make purchases. 

There were, as I recall, three computer stores in the town. We went to the largest. Dressed in our office attire, we walked into the store which was quite large, with a number of PCs from various companies on display and we were met near the door by a salesman. He asked if he could help us and I told him we were looking for computers. He then said, complete with a large smirk, “We only sell to businesses.”

I smiled my Southern Lady Smile, asked to speak to the manager, told him the amount of business he had just lost, and we left. We got our equipment at a more enlightened store.

My purpose in repeating this tale is to compare it to how things are in the Universe with Apple. Granted, no one in his right mind treats women in such a manner in a work environment in this day and age. Sales persons know that women and men can be on equal footing when using, repairing, purchasing, and even teaching about computers and all the associated peripherals, and that’s not even getting into that whole politically correct stuff. 

My question for you, kind readers, is to think about why. If we had no Apple Computer to create Macs that anyone can use, would it really be that way today? If all we had in the computer universe was the same old DOS based machine would “everyone” have access to computers that they could actually use? We might have an Internet, but would the average person have access to it? Would ordinary people be able to use the Internet to shop, research, work, run businesses, or talk to others across the band widths?

I don’t mean to overstate things. There were plenty of companies and people that were involved in making computers mainstream and even cheap, but it was Apple that was the early pioneer in marketing computers to ordinary people with the Apple ][ line, and it was Apple that focused on making computers easier for ordinary people to use with the Mac.

Before Apple, and even during Apple’s early years, computers were seen as being somewhere between entirely and largely the realm of business, as witnessed by the anecdote I related above. Today that’s not the case, thanks in part to the pioneering work of Apple, and for that I am thankful.

Yesterday I had the chance to talk to a lovely young woman who was helping her husband do a repair to my home. They have five children, the oldest of whom has some behavior problems.

In spite of the fact that this young couple are of modest means, she blithely told me about researching on the Internet to learn about the medications the doctor was prescribing for her child, so she could discuss them with knowledge and be involved in the decisions about them. Could this have happened before home computers were the norm? We know the answer to that. Just as we know the answer to why we are able to have home computers in the first place. 

So, thanks to Apple, the company Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded. My children took TV for granted, and their children take computers for granted, but there are those of us who remember when there was no Apple and no computers for everyone and we give thanks for what you have given us.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

Comments

cb50dc

how thankful I am that things aren?t the way they were back then.

Indeed. So much talk about “the good ol’ days” is so very selective, forgetting all the problems interwoven with the “good.” That applies not only with tech, but all across the board on major issues of life. We’ll always have the same basic human concerns.

Happy thanksgiving.

Lee Dronick

Great article!

Check out the white socks on the guy wearing the business suit. I bet that he has a paper clip to replace a missing hinge screw on his eyeglasses.

wab95

Agree, great article, Nancy.

I too never miss an ACM podcast - although they come out so frequently, it’s hard to keep up (couldn’t resist that).

I think we underestimate the severity of the trajectory change brought to the industry by Apple, which we can estimate by how poorly the industry in general has done in emulating Apple’s approach to the consumer-centric user experience.

Whatever that future might have been without Apple (oh, the possibilities) it would clearly have been bleak and sterile compared to what we have today, particularly in the way of personal ultraportable devices.

Computers small enough to put into our pockets that have more processing power than put rockets on the moon? The stuff of science fiction even 25 years ago.

Happy Thanksgiving.

ibuck

I wonder how much different computers would be if Apple had never existed. I’m fairly sure still there would be a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Would the user interface be as evolved, and as easy to use as it is now if Atari, Xerox (eventually) or someone else developed it?

Would we have the advanced phones and mobile gadgets we have now? I suspect Apple accelerated development of the GUI’s of today’s gadgets, by 5-10 years or more.

I’m very thankful for that.

Lee Dronick

I wonder how much different computers would be if Apple had never existed. I?m fairly sure still there would be a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Would the user interface be as evolved, and as easy to use as it is now if Atari, Xerox (eventually) or someone else developed it?

Would we have the advanced phones and mobile gadgets we have now? I suspect Apple accelerated development of the GUI?s of today?s gadgets, by 5-10 years or more.

That would be a fun story to write. Backtrack history and take the other fork in the road to see how things ends up. Suppose Xerox wouldn’t have let Apple in for a look, but Steve wants a new interface and dreams up something on his own.

ibuck

Lee D said:

That would be a fun story to write. Backtrack history and . . .

That would be a fun story to READ too, if done reasonably well.

Lee Dronick

That would be a fun story to READ too, if done reasonably well.

Yes, it has to be done just right, it has to be done Jobsian and not cheesy.

wab95

That would be a fun story to READ too, if done reasonably well.

Go read some of Arthur C Clarke’s early works, particularly his short stories, but also ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, ‘Foundations of Paradise’ and others which frequently feature futuristic moonscapes, but have ‘engineers’ in the computer rooms inputting ‘tapes’, ‘cards’ and other input devices. One can get an idea of what one possible future might have looked like - and this from a man regarded as a reasonably accurate futurist. These were to be the tools of scientists and engineers.

In my darker musings, I believe that our computers would clearly have become smaller, there would be some use of graphical interfaces, but I fear that the command line would have remained a standard, a deliberate and wilful conceit, to keep that power in the hands of an elect few who alone would know how to truly unleash that power. The scorn heaped upon the Unix underpinnings of OS X by the Linux community is a, pardon the phrase, graphical illustration of the same; specifically geeks who pride themselves on their command line prowess.

I believe, in some of those alternate histories, there would also be mobile ‘intelligent’ phones, too; replete with knobs, buttons, styluses, keyboards, and complexity with a choice of colours, beige, grey or military green - serious tools for serious ‘men’.

Snrub

It’s conceivable that the GUI could have been bypassed completely. I believe that voice commanding a computer would have happened anyways (it was already a concept used in various books, movies, etc. before there even were computers).

Log-in to comment