The computer that saved my life turns 30 today. My friends know I am prone to hyperbole, but in this case my words contain no exaggeration. The computer for "the rest of us" may be the most lasting, formative relationship of my life.
I was a nerdy, imaginative kid of nearly unlimited social ineptitude. Cast aside your preconception of nerdy shyness–I was anything but. My tendency to share anything and everything with anyone pushed me to the edge of first grade society. I remained there until high school.
I wasn't diagnosed with a learning disability until my junior year. It turns out I have great trouble with short term memory, auditory processing, and certain types of dexterity. Writing by hand is both taxing and frustrating: the shapes in my mind never pour from a pen correctly. I can not tell me right from my left, and I am perpetually unaware of the time, date, or day of the week.
I was such a poor early student that I was put in special classes. To this day, I'm not sure if the teachers suspected me of hidden brilliance or too-far-below-the-bell-curve intelligence. I suspect they were unsure as well. This individualized instruction didn't accomplish much, aside from a safe harbor from the teasing of my schoolmates. There were discussions in some years about holding me back.
That is, until the school got computers. I was born in 1978, and desktop computers and I entered the educational system together. I can still remember the room where the computers were kept, and the exhilaration I felt when you could simply *press a key and letters would appear on screen.* It was writing, but without handwriting. I could type thoughts far easier than I could write them. I took to computers like a man who meets the girl he's going to marry. Where have you been all my life?
I was a pretty decent programmer by fourth grade. But those were Apple IIs, a more primitive ancestor of the Macintosh. They were a life line, sure, but they were not the thing that would become an effortless extension of my own mind. That took the Mac.
I can remember the first Mac I ever saw. I walked into the computer lab in sixth grade, thrilled to see row after row of Apple IIgs (quite a hotrod in its day). But over in the corner were three curious little computers. They were black-and-white, with built in screens. I thought they seemed primitive at first, and I resented the fact that sixth graders couldn't use them.
I walked over to one of the older kids and said, "What's that?" He didn't even look away from the screen, "A Macintosh." I leaned in closer. "Is it made by Apple."
I didn't take well to the "duh." I was the top dog when it came to computers back in fifth grade. None of my classmates even new what a CPU was, while I knew it was the computer's traffic cop.
"Why is it black and white? Apple makes color computers now." I felt happy about establishing the superiority of the computer I had to use in the class.
"It doesn't have to be color. It's got graphics."
"What are graphics?"
"Pictures on the screen that look the same when you print them."
Now that was an interesting notion. I was often frustrate with the way things looked when printed on an ImageWriter from an Apple II. Looking at the screen, I could see there was a certain sharpness and smoothness to the images on the display. My IIgs looked blocky and slow somehow next to this Mac.
I vowed to use one. I worked hard in computer class, and won the computer fair. That was enough to secure me a rare opportunity for a sixth grader–the use of the Macs. It was love at first touch. The pointer moved in perfect time with the mouse, as if your hand was in the screen.
I became an expert in Macs. I built a campus wide network out of unused intercom cabling. I connected computers to the Internet, and created shared printers and scanners. I helped the science teachers wire up Apple IIs, Macs and Laser Disk players. In eight grade, I was named "Computer Trainer of the Year." It's the only trophy I've ever received.
I started a computer business in high school, going from house to house helping people setup and use their computers. I learned how to fix them, and how to make them easier on people who weren't comfortable with them. Local businesses started to call me for help.
I got a job working in IT for the government at 17. Soon after, the owner of the local Apple Reseller and Service Provider hired me–a man to whom I still owe a debt of gratitude. For the first time I was a part of the Mac movement.
I went to MacWorld. I met Steve Jobs. I got a job running IT for an ad agency. I was a VP by 25.
I owe my life to that machine. Without it, I would have no career and no education. I wouldn't be able to blog. Steve Jobs said he wanted to put a dent in the Universe, and that dent created the space for me to have the life I live today.
As we've gotten older, some of the fire has left our relationship. I no longer espouse the superiority of the Mac over all other computers. I've learned that different computers have different uses for different people. Windows is a pretty good operating system these days. So is Linux.
But I'll always love the Mac. I'm not me without it. It is the bicycle of my mind, strong where I am weak. It gives me a whole brain. My Mac is as full of my thoughts as my own brain–and it knows more about my day tomorrow.
Happy 30th, Macintosh. Here's to 30 more.