by Steven Levy
Steven Levy is a columnist,for
Rolling Stone and Popular
Computing. He is the author of
When it came time to buy a computer, I was the most sincere of advice-seekers. I would ask anybody. And I got all sorts of answers, every one of them appended with a warning that if I didn't heed that particular suggestion I'd be miserable for an entire generation of technology.
I listened to the answers. I made notes. And finally I sought a consultant who would sell me a computer and show me how to use it. The moment I knew this one consultant was right for me was when he announced his choice for my computer: an Apple II Plus. Because in my heart I never really wanted anything else.
I am a person who takes note of the origins of things, and the karma of a given act. And in the world of computers I find no more pleasing start-up story than that of the Apple. A guy who loved computers built one in a garage, and made this computer different by giving it color, unlimited versatility and a bit of flakiness. It is a human creation, and the human who created it is readily identifiable and a friendly weirdo to boot. Stephen Wozniak aspired to a quality far more elusive than user-friendliness or marketability or sexiness (though the Apple has all of those).
He was shooting for Neatitude. His goal was to make his engineer friends look at his invention and say, "Neat!" Generally, they said it. And a few people with some marketing skills circulated the Apple name around enough for the world at large to appreciate Woz' machine.
|WHAT IS A COMPUTER?
A computer is a machine that handles patterns. It takes them in and sends them out. We think of these patterns as words or numbers, but computers handle them as words of their own language.
Many machines handle patterns. Only computers are controlled by the same sorts of patterns that they take in and give out. This makes them special-it means they can change their own instructions.
The languages of the computer are created by people, but people are still trying to learn their own languages. Therefore, computer languages are very simple and stupid. People also build the computer so that it will never do anything the patterns don't say exactly. Try telling someone exactly what to do and see how far you get.
If anyone suggested that living beings be turned into computers (through genetic engineering, for instance), I would be violently opposed. No "dumb animal" is so limited as a computer. It's a strange fact that some people think that computers should tell us what to do.
What are we to think of people like that?
LEE FELSENSTEIN, President of Golemics, Inc., and designer of the Sol and Osborne I computers
There is no end to my pleasure in owning this sleek hunk of plastic and silicon. There were some immediate drawbacks, of course. I had to buy almost an extra thousand dollars' worth of hardware to get my Apple II to the level of a top-notch word processor. But even in the act of coupling up my machine with an 80-column board, a CP/M card and a load of chips that give it 16K more RAM (I love to talk computer), I was learning some valuable stuff. Stuff about my machine.
This experience of buying add-on hardware is extremely common among Apple II users, who can modify the original to do almost anything one can imagine a computer doing and some things that no one imagined a computer doing. This creativity is encouraged by the Apple itself. It is the only best-selling computer that has a lid that lifts off with more ease than the top of a peanut jar. You can't even plug in a joystick without opening the Apple lid and learning something in the process.
The Apple II assumes you are not an idiot. (In my case, this was not a reasonable assumption, but I adjusted.) It assumes you want to know something about how computers work. It assumes you want to know about how the world works.
I think this is what binds us Apple folk together. When I bought a computer, I wanted something more than a tool. I wanted something that would put me in touch with the world of computing. There is no better way to do that than with an Apple, with its unparalleled software base (I have a tarot reading program and a program for baseball statistics) and its easy, well-documented programming environment.
There are machines that do some of the things I do with an Apple II a bit better than I can do them with my Apple, but none of those machines can sit on my desk and be an Apple, which just by sitting there says, "I'm a computer. Touch me. I can do amazing things. Do your word processing on me, but remember, we can play games, too. And lots of other stuff. Not only am I part of history, but by using me you're part of history, too. As well as being a bit crazy thinking I'm talking to you when you haven't even turned me on yet."
Is my hearing this monologue a sign that I'm a bit flaky myself? Maybe. But that's a characteristic in keeping with Apple ownership. We're weird enough to think there's more to owning a computer than a venerable trade name. The secret every Apple owner knows is that in this world some of us are passengers and some of us are pilots. People who own IBMs are passengers in ambassador class. First-class riders buy Hewlett-Packard. Epson folk have reservations in coach, and Commodore 64 flies stand-by. Kids at half price own Ataris. Up in the cockpit, scarves tossed to the wind, are the Apple owners. All Apple owners see themselves as pioneers, and appreciate the original personality in a computer as well as its foxy looks.
When it comes to personality, nothing tops an Apple. Except an Apple owner.
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