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by Eolake Stobblehouse

The Importance Of The Mac: What's In A Pretty Face?
December 27th, 2000

Since the beginning, Apple Computer has been accused of making toys. The Apple II in the late seventies was one of the first personal computers, a concept that in itself was ridiculous to many (why on Earth would a private individual want a computer?), and it was the first to come in a sleek plastic case all in one, instead of being more or less a hobby kit. The Original Macintosh in 1984 was not expandable, it was small and cute, and it pandered to dumb and lazy users by its graphical interface instead of more manly command lines. And of course the iMac in the late nineties.. well, no floppy drive, and it came in colors for lord's sake.

The long and the short of it is that the Mac talks to the playful side of us, and it talks with aesthetics. Serious machines are for getting things done, no less and please, no more. Anything else is frivolous, and it is not important, and so should not be addressed outside kindergartens.

In order to put things in perspective, lets look at a much more extreme example of this. The Sony Aibo. It is a robot. It is a commercial toy robot. It is a robot of a dog. It is cute and very expensive. It is completely useless.

Jeff Harrow surprised himself and the rest of us by really loving this little thing. Jeff writes:

Sony's Aibo robotic dog has been around for a couple of years.  I played around with one of the original US$2,500 marvels at a previous show and, while I was impressed with the mechanics and electronics that brought it to life (and even caused it to once raise its leg!), that first Aibo struck me as a "neat" electronic toy, but not much else. [...]

It aggressively wanted to play with me!  Aibo walked over to me and butted his head against my hand so that I would "scratch" and "pet" the sensors on top of its head, below its chin, and on its back.  When I didn't, he would press harder and move around to get my attention.  He evoked the same emotions in me as a (rather hard-skinned) puppy! [...]

There's much more to this new Aibo, which will be going on sale soon over the Web and through a few high-end retailers.  But it was my reaction to Aibo that I think is most significant:  I walked up to the Aibo playpen simply to see the latest hardware, but I had trouble walking away.

So what is important about this playboy toy? Apart from the fact that it heralds the beginning, finally, of the era of actual robotics (and right at the change of the millennium too), it is important because it has no practical use, and still Sony sold 70,000 of the first (inferior) model, at 2,000 dollars a pop! Obviously it evokes something strong in humans.

Let us look for a moment at how many computers are actually and directly used for something strictly practical. You know, something that helps humans get food or shelter. It is not damn many. They are used for playing, for talking, for making pictures, for making music...

Some would claim that these things are not important, that only survival is important. I say NO. If only survival is important, what are we surviving for? Let us say you live to be 200 years old, but you do it in solitude in a small room without a view, no books, no art, no activity, no friends or family. Would that be life?

Life is what is happening after bare survival has been covered. Life is striving for fellowship, for love, for art, for wisdom, for higher levels of existence.

And all of life is a part of that, including iMac and Aibo. It is not just what overpaid and under-ambitious men in universities are thinking, and what befuddled fine artists are painting, it is everything that surrounds us every day.

One day, when mankind has conquered the Earth and perhaps the Galaxy, and at the very least his soul, bare survival will be a given for even the weakest amongst us, and play, aesthetics, knowledge and the spirit will be what life will be about. And maybe man will see entirely new vistas of what "life" can be.

Yours, Eolake Stobblehouse

is a contributing editor to the Mac Observer, specializing in cultural matters, and comes to us by way of MacCreator. Comments invited.

The title of this column, "Fuzzy Logic", refers to an attempt to view the larger issues without getting lost in the details. Sort of "squinting" at things:) Of course it is also the term for an attempt in computing to get computers to look at the world like it is, in a spectrum of grays, instead of 1 and 0, or Black and White.

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