Happy 21st Birthday to the Macintosh! It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since the first Macintosh computer was born. Remember that amazing 1984 commercial directed by Ridley Scott that introduced the Mac in a sort of frightening, futuristic way during the Super Bowl? They also just found the long-lost introduction of the computer by Steve Jobs that aired on public television. Watch the crowd scream with shock and delight as they witness the marvels of this machine that had less RAM and speed than we’d accept in a $5.00 child’s toy today! Can you believe the original Mac cost $2,495? I was just talking to my brother about the first printer my dad bought back then. It was capable of printing only one font at a time and used that paper with the holes on the side that you had to feed in and it cost $3,500! Unbelievable. But we thought it was the coolest thing on Earth.
My first introduction to computers was watching the great Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie, “The Desk Set.” Hepburn’s Bunny Watson is a crack research librarian who is forced by Tracy’s Richard Sumner to accept the inevitably of the computer age. Tracy is hired to make the research department where Hepburn works more efficient so he drags in the gigantic room-sized Emerac computer which, while weighing several tons and requiring thousands of punched cards as data entry, had less computer power than my microwave oven. Hepburn’s loyal assistants, played by Joan Blondell and Dina Merrill, are convinced that the new computer spells doom for their jobs but Kate is not intimidated. At one point she takes on the computer in a research pissing contest and wins hands down as poor Emerac has a nervous breakdown. A prominent theme throughout the film is how the aging Hepburn’s chances for landing a mate are rapidly diminishing, so the ultimate takeover of the computer is presented as a positive step towards women achieving what they really need: HUSBANDS! The screenplay for “The Desk Set” was written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, the parents of Delia and Nora Ephron who 40 years later wrote the screenplay for “You’ve Got Mail,” another computer-based movie. I think my favorite computer flick was “Demon Seed” in which Julie Christie was actually raped and impregnated by a computer. Talk about fear of new technology!
I bought my first Macintosh just after moving to Los Angeles in 1986 and I’ve been hooked ever since. It was a Mac Plus and considering it had the Heinz ketchup speed of 8 MHz and a paltry 4 MB of RAM, can you freaking believe I paid $2,600 for it?! That’s without the dot matrix printer that probably cost another $2,000 and was so loud I remember putting a cardboard box over it while it was printing to avoid disturbing my downstairs neighbors.
In 1987 the company I was working for got its first laser printer and its arrival was greeted with the same reverence and celebration as Mottel the Tailor’s sewing machine in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I remember printing a single paragraph and running all over the building showing the sheet of paper to everyone as they gasped at the perfect, non-typewritten text. There were no such things as laptops, of course, and we could not fathom the idea that one day people would be carrying around little portable computers wirelessly hooked up to the Internet (which in 1986 was still called the ARPANET and was used only by the military). They might just as well have speculated that we’d all be sexually assaulted by Julie Christie's computer.
My long line of Macintosh computers, now leeching dangerous chemicals in landfills all over California, included names like the Macintosh IIsi, LC, Quadra, Centris, Performa, Power Macintosh 6500, PowerMac G3, Wallstreet and Pismo PowerBooks, all the way to my cherished G4 12-inch iBook I’m writing on right now.
I really think Steve Jobs altered the face of this planet with the Macintosh. He changed our lives every bit as much as Henry Ford did in his day, and Jobs had the advantage of not being a raving, evil anti-Semite like Ford was. For the full story of the birth of the Macintosh, see the Folklore website and have a Geek’s day in paradise! You will also want to check out the Apple Computer History Weblog which contains tons of firsthand accounts and anecdotes by people who worked for Apple or used Macintosh products in the early days.
I admit that people who love Macs are very much like cult members or fetishists. I’m sure PC people want to sink into the ground when they see us coming because they know we’re about to launch into one of our smug speeches on the inherent superiority of the Macintosh. Sometimes I think that the gulf between Israelis and Palestinians is more manageable than the one between Mac and PC users.