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by Rodney O. Lain

A Shrugging Atlas: Sometimes I Wish for Armageddon, Sometimes I Wish Apple Would Go Out of Business
November 9th 2000

Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical. But, then, I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of [expletive deleted], I will never read again!

Officer Barbrady, Comedy Channel's South Park (the "Chicken Lover" episode)

A few years ago, I used to be a religious Christian; later, I had an epiphany and became a Universalist, the ideological personification of evil, if you let my Christian friends tell it. During those church-going, unenlightened times, I used to subscribe to a bit of heresy that I never divulged up till now: I used to pray for Armageddon.

You see, I figured that, if the world was going to hell in a hand basket, according to modern interpretations of Christian dogma, why not hasten the process and bring on World War III and bring the house down? If this world is so old and "sin-sick," I thought, let's empty the plate and start anew. Let's just get it over with. Let's cut to the chase. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

I'm the kind of person who doesn't always have the patience to fight the good fight. There are times when -- if you'll allow me to mix my metaphors here -- I like to skip to the end of the book and see how it turns out.

Today, I'm feeling similarly about Apple Computer. I'm always hearing from people who say that Apple does not matter in the scheme of things technology -- some say it never has and never will. They like to bet me that if Apple were to go belly up, the world wouldn't notice. They like to bet me that it would be for the better if Apple were to give up the ghost and let the Windows world absorb our five percent market share so that us Mac users can finally "get with the program."

Okay, I accept that bet. Let's kill Apple Computer. Let's do away with the Mac and the Mac OS; let's see if the computing world will be an equally interesting -- and progressive -- place.

Visionaries on strike
Atlas Shrugged is probably the worst piece of writing that I've ever had to plod through, Henry James' writing notwithstanding.

The characterizations are stiltedly one-dimensional and much of the dialogue is bloated beyond belief; characters force us to suffer their paragraphs and paragraphs of preachy soliloquies and dialogues; critics find it too easy to tear apart the novel's shortcomings. Yet, there are thousands who treasure the book and subscribe to Objectivism, the philosophy espoused by the author in the pages therein. For example, I read somewhere that Larry Ellison, Oracle, Inc. CEO and Friend of Steve, is a chief proponent.

The book's plot is quite simple: in its fictional world, there exists a handful of individuals who drive and sustain the world's economy and lifestyle; they are the business- and science-community leaders who collectively lifted the Western world to the standard of living that many take for granted and enjoy as a birthright. They are the world's CEOs, its inventors, its geniuses, its philosophers, its artists. An ungrateful world takes them for granted, though, always demanding and expecting more, ever more. These leaders who are essentially the world's foundation feel eternally put upon and feel as if they are being sucked dry.

So, they decide to go on strike, for lack of a better term.

The balance of the novel describes the results of a world deprived of its greatest assets: the intellectual currency of its best and brightest. I read the book out of curiosity. I wasn't too wild about the lessons taught: there's nothing wrong with making money; making money is the ultimate virtue; if you are a slut (merely giving "it" away), shame on you; but if you are a prostitute (charging everyone for it), you are to be praised.

What struck me about the book was the idea that people hate genius. People hate stratospheric success. They hate it, yet they demand to benefit from the fruits of ingenuity and creativity. I have seen this in the real world.

In every school class, there is usually one kid who excels beyond the others, be it on the playground or in the classroom. We hate and envy those people, but they are the ones who set -- and raise -- the standard. They do things well; they make it look good and easy. Apple is that kid at the head of the class.

People talk much about how irrelevant Apple is: I'd love for Apple to disappear, just to prove them wrong.

Let me count the ways...
I'd love to see a world in which USB is the connectivity standard for digital devices. How far would that go? Would we ever have seen even a USB 2.0?

I'd love see if Microsoft Windows would ever have evolved past version 1.0, without Apple functioning as the R&D. What would the modern OS look like today?

PCs are still beige and boxy today, in spite of the fact that even PC pundits shake their heads in amazement that Apple enjoys a commanding lead in the industrial design. How much worse would they be today, without Apple's widespread influence?

Wireless networking? 'Nuff said.

The floppy would still be dying an even slower death than it is.

The PDA. The Newton. 'Nuff said.

The iMac.

The iBook.

The PowerBook.

Mac OS X.

Sure, but...
I could name a much longer list, but you know it better than I do.

Also, it could be argued that even if Apple were to die today, the company's "brain trust" -- its designers, programmers and engineers -- would be absorbed by the competition. But therein lies the main reason why the industry would suffer equal to -- if not worse than -- the effect of Apple's having never existed.

There are many large organizations, so large that their size is their greatest asset and their greatest liability; this you already know. For example, there are many ways in which to change the U. S. government from the bloated, bureaucracy laden elephant that it is, to a svelte paragon of efficiency, but, the hardest thing to do is change an organization that's been around a long time, has thousands of workers and has a set corporate culture and way of doing things. Even if the employees know intuitively that the government is bloated and archaic, very few would vote to slim down and flatten out the organization.

After all, who would willingly agree to kill their own job, their gravy train?

This can be extrapolated to Apple's competitors taking over Apple's brain trust. Even if, say, Microsoft were to hire all of the Apple's OS programmers, would the company really have the guts to rewrite Windows and make it what it needs to be, a truly intuitive and joyful-to-use OS?

There is a component of Apple Computer's makeup, its DNA, that that cannot be replicated in today's computer companies, than cannot be bought or transplanted -- not without tearing the companies down and rebuilding them in Apple's image. Call it a metaphysical component, call it a spirit, call it a vision, call it whatever you want, but it is this component that is the secret behind the creative genius that Apple puts into flesh with its software and hardware creations.

If Apple were to die, this metaphysical component is what would be taken from the world. This is what would be absent from the computing world that would make it a listless and commoditized collection of electronic gadgetry that would "turn off" all of us Mac users.

How many times have people commented on the elegance and utility of Apple's products, its form and function, vis-á-vis competitors' products? Look at the iPod as an example. If you've ever owned any of the current crop of MP3 players, Apple's "breakthrough digital device" easily shows you that you've suffered too long with technological inferiority and mediocrity.

This feeling that "something is missing" is what we'd never be aware of if there were no Apple Computer.

Alas and alack, many of the Apple haters would never believe such arguments, which is why I wish that Apple would have never existed. Again, just to spotlight their (the Apple haters) folly. Can you imagine the resulting world in which we'd live? The creative professions would crawl to a standstill, because not much would have been accomplished if they'd depended on PCs to get their work done. Ditto for the education sector and other markets that are bastions of Apple hardware and software.

But, we are "stuck" with Apple. And I don't care what the Michael Dell's of the world have to say about the Cupertino computer maker, there is no way that anyone should be able to deny the scope, depth and breadth of the company's influence on the industry. We should not dispute the evidence of our senses: the computer industry needs Apple to lead the way and to function as the industry's research-and-development arm.

Now, granted, there are many advances that the personal computer needs to make, still; most of them are yet in the future. I'm not saying that these advances would not be made without Apple Computer. I am saying, though, that that without Apple, it would take much longer to reach them without Apple leading the way as the only company with a willingness to take the risks, to make the changes. Such is the price of progress. Dell and the rest won't pay that price, since there isn't much profit nor market share down that path.

People can wish that Apple had never existed, but I'm glad that we don't have to see what such a world would be like. It would be like a world without color TV, where the personal computer is the TV, and Apple is the color.

Rodney O. Lain loves subversive and irreverent humor. When he is exasperating his wife with non-stop quote of dialogue from "South Park," he is a regular contributor to The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column, as well as the occasional editorial.

Your comments are welcomed.

Rodney O. Lain is a junior manager at a major corporation. He enjoys public speaking, mentoring minority college students, and helping community multicultural-awareness efforts. He also "preaches the Gospel" at a Minneapolis Micro Center -- he's the bald black guy. Rodney "drives" a G4 Cube and a PowerBook G3. After enjoying a popular run at Mac, "iBrotha" was axed, to readers' dismay. Back by popular demand, it now runs exclusively at Mac Observer every other Friday, replacing "Rodney's Soapbox."

[Editor's Note: Rodney O.Lain passed away in June, 2002.]

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