Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apple: A Love Story

My first glimpse of a Macintosh was in my theology teacher’s classroom. 

“You can type up your graduation speech on this,” Mr. Reyes said, as I eyeballed the strange box. “That way, you can make corrections or changes to it.”

In 1986, this seemed like magic.

And the Mac Plus sitting on my hippy-dippy teacher’s desk looked crazy cute. I mean, it even had a handle! I couldn’t resist. I’m sure there were some glitches as I learned how to cut and paste, drag the cursor over text, and use a mouse. I don’t remember any of that.

I just remember I was hooked, what you would call an "early adopter" in today's tech terminology. And when I moved onto a Big 10 university, I was giddy to discover that all the newly created computer labs sprinkled around campus were tricked out with rows and rows of Mac Pluses and Mac SEs. If my eyesight was bad, it went to shit staring at those tiny screens at 2am. But I didn’t care. In fact, I loved it.

By my senior year, I had become editor of the college yearbook and decided to fire our yearbook publisher and take our $100,000 account to Jostens because they promised that we could produce the pages using Pagemaker, a few Macs, and a bunch of 3 ½-inch disks. I still can't bear to crack open the finished product because of all the mistakes up in there, but I am proud that I jumped into the world of desktop publishing feet first.

I didn’t stop there. While Steve Jobs was off working at NeXT, I entered the workforce, getting a job at a small design and production company in Fairfax, Virginia. One of our biggest clients was the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S. (or NAPUS). Every year my boss would handle all its convention planning, including creating a daily newsletter on site. I persuaded Ray to take me with him to the NAPUS national convention in Niagara Falls that year, promising I could edit and lay out the newsletter every day on an SE. It must have worked out okay, because I attended two more conventions before moving on, armed with crack editing and typesetting skills.

In every place I’ve worked since, the computer platform has been Mac, which was normally a dream. Whenever I’ve visited my parents, however, I’ve had to hobble my way through the Windows PC up in spare bedroom-turned-computer room. Right click, what?

And now I’m doing a part-time gig with Microsoft. They supplied me with a laptop—a PC—and I’ve had to learn the logic behind Windows OS, as well as the shortcuts that seem like second nature to my coworkers. But I’ve taught them a few things too, because using a Mac has made me nimble. Some say Apple computers are easier to use, that you can see everything and click on whatever you want or need. That’s true. But there are the secret handshakes, the hidden staircases, the key commands, and typesetting shortcuts that have been in place from the beginning that make me feel as if I’m part of the cool-kids club. Maybe knowing how to make an em-dash or smart quote doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, but it—as surely as using a Mac for 20-plus years—has shaped how I approach my work and how I regard myself. My professional and personal identity has been colored with the crisp white world of Apple.

And for that, Steve Jobs, I thank you.

(photo: The Michiganensian's sports editor with one of the Mac SEs we were using for editing and design.)

A sampling of my books