I have never owned a personal computer that was not a Macintosh. Even though I’d seen other PCs before I saw a Mac, I wasn’t interested in them. I had written two novels on my IBM Selectric III and really felt like it was all I needed. My first wife was in graduate school and she and I were living in Iowa City, and her typewriter broke. We decided to go looking for a new one. This was about 1984, I guess. We looked for a shop that sold typewriters. There was a shift underway that we were only marginally aware of. Writers we knew were switching to computers. I had had a run-in with a computer at Hollins when I was in grad school, and found the barrier to entry of the command line interface too high when all I wanted to do was write.
Somewhere in Iowa City, I don’t remember where, we went into a computer shop and there was a Mac. Unlike all of the other computers, you could actually see what was going on. You could point and click. You could italicize something. You could see what your document was going to look like. Except it was about $2500. But nothing else, except maybe the Amiga, was even vaguely appealing. Even the Apple IIe, which if I have it right, was a totally sexy design and way cheaper, didn’t do it. The Selectric was probably my first case of technolust or shiny object syndrome, as it would later be known. But the Mac just seemed like everything a computer ought to have been.
Not sure exactly when it was, late ’84 or early ’85, we spent about $1900 on a “fat” Mac, which meant it had 512K of memory. I remember buying my first box of floppies, which held a whopping 400K — it was about $40. Not long after, we bought an ImageWriter. And not much later, I sold my Selectric to buy an external floppy drive — this one was dual sided and the disks could hold 800K. It was a major step up, because you didn’t have to swap the program floppy for the file floppy all the time. We bought tractor feed paper by the case, and I remember developing a whole system for separating the pages from their neighbors and their tractor feed sides, sitting on the floor with a letter opener and a garbage bag.
I had no idea who Steve Jobs was then. I had no idea who any of the players were. It wasn’t until later that he became a personal hero. Why? Probably not too different from all of the other people to whom he was a hero. He was the American Dream personified. Blown by chance to where and how he grew up, he heard opportunity knock loud and clear, and not only opened the door to let it in — more than once — but chased it down the street and dragged it into his garage. He made it seem like you could do it, too. Except you couldn’t.
Like a lot of Mac hardware — most that I’ve owned — my first Mac lasted for years. My son is still using the PowerBook I bought in 2001. I just wish Steve Jobs could have been as durable as the hardware his company makes. Except it also seems that he lived so many lives in one life his life seems impossible by any normal standard. To say that he will be missed so understates the point that it hardly seems worth saying.