AN IBM PC OWNER
by Lindsy Van Gelder
Lindsy Van Gelder is a contributing editor for PC, PCjr and Ms. magazines.
I am essentially a sixties person: your basic left-liberal, radical feminist, anticorporate, Lacoste-hating old hippie whose leading cultural reference point is Mother Jones, not Dow Jones. I have a rent-controlled apartment, a child in the New York City public schools and an almost completely spotless record (spoiled by Bella Abzug) of voting for losing candidates.
And I have an IBM.
I love my little PC, but it wreaks havoc with my self-image. Not that I consider IBM an especially evil corporation (I suppose if they were dumping infant formula on the Third World or manufacturing napalm, I could have resisted buying their product with no trouble), but they're ... well, stuffy. They reek of what we sixties people used to call "uptight." If you can't instantly see the utter folly of my position, consider the following description tendered by Apple president John Sculley in an interview in InfoWorld: "I think IBM consumers are more traditional. If you see them in the office, they probably have their jacket on, and they wouldn't give an interview without a three-piece suit on."
I bought my IBM back in early 1982 because, after compulsively researching the market, I concluded that it was the best machine around for my needs. Emotionally, this was somewhat on a par with discovering that designer jeans are more comfortable than Levis or that iceberg is the most nutritious lettuce or that Richard Nixon is the best candidate for the job, but I bought the IBM anyway.
From time to time I still feel the pull toward the images of other computers, if not their particular features. Radio Shack, for instance. Just the Jersey Turnpike, fast-food-chain sound of it appeals to me, not to mention its origins as a hobbyist's computer. Ditto for Apple, whose name is cute and as uncorporate as the Volkswagen Beetle. (Here it's rivaled only by the NorthStar, which sounds like it ought to be a back-packing tent.) The Timex computer has a proletarian feel to it, a first cousin to the Mickey Mouse watch. I also like the VIC, which sounds like a regular guy, a computer who pals around the bowling alley with Vito and Tony.
Even the Osborne is named for a real live maverick person, not a multinational company. People who own Osbornes affectionately refer to their machines as Oz (as in Wizard), or Ozzie (as in Harriet), whereas we IBM owners are reduced to referring to ours simply as PC-a usurpation of a generic that tends to infuriate other computer owners in much the same way that referring to United States residents as "Americans" tends to infuriate residents of the other nations in this hemisphere. (Perhaps we should call it Percy?)
Being an IBM owner also means that I end up on some of the poshest mailing lists around. In recent weeks I've been offered help for my "portfolio," a chance to be first on my block to buy a combination telephone/ modem/answering machine/dialer "executive work station" (if only it would empty the kitty litter, too) and subscriptions to a mind-boggling number of IBM-related publications. Most of these offers arrive in my mailbox inexplicably addressed to the president of Lindsy Van Gelder, Inc.
But my worst moments as an IBMer occur on the CB channel of CompuServe. Whenever there's a lull in the conversation, some fool Atari owner invariably throws out the telecommunications equivalent of "What's your sign?":
WHAT R U ALL USING?
IBM, I casually reply.
Usually there's a long pause, and then something like WELL!!! LA DEE DAH!!!
I've tried to explain that such remarks ought to be saved for people with Fortunes or GRIDS. Like the Vuitton bag, the IBM is the one that's stuck with the snob label, whether it's the ritziest or not.
But I love my little PC: its awesome memory, its P31 high-res green screen, its sculpted function keys. Who knows? Maybe I could learn to love iceberg lettuce, once they bring out a 16-bit version and figure out how to run a WordStar disk on its head.
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