It’s true what they say — whoever “they” are with their wise and spiffy sayings — that time flies. It does indeed fly, right over the top of us, where it likes to splatter our finery with a big mess of “Boy, am I old.”
This not-so-appealing image came to mind this month when I realized that the Apple Mac just turned 30. How can that be? It seems like just yesterday that the iconic Mac home computer thrust Apple squarely onto the tech scene with a rather awesome Super Bowl commercial, directed by none other than Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, etc.) and inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984.
The now-famous commercial featured a determined female athlete bursting into a bleak, dystopian-world-looking room, into which she flung a hammer and smashed the large screen transmitting the ravings of some evil entity (which supposedly represented IBM, the king of computers way back in the real 1984).
It turned out that the subtext of that commercial wasn’t just a bunch of advertising hyperbole and high concept. It was dead-on.
The Mac really did completely change the world of computers. Few people had, or even wanted, such a thing as a “home computer” until that point, mainly because you needed a certain amount of geekiness, and at least a familiarity with the basic computer language, to do anything.
I never owned one of those original, boring-looking, beige Mac machines (I had a Commodore 64 at the time, which saved info and files onto cassette tapes… so it was, y’know, totally state-of-the art). I did, however, have a girlfriend who bought one of the first Macs. I have to admit: the user interface blew me away when I first saw it, mainly because until then, there was no such thing as a “user interface.” The only thing you saw when you booted up the ol’ 64 was a flashing curser next to the “C:/” or “C prompt.” But the Mac went and made computers accessible to techies and non-techies alike by making everything as simple as double-clicking a mouse button.
Of course, Microsoft then “borrowed” that great-looking user interface for its own Windows operating system (much as Apple got its inspiration from Xerox, or so the story goes) and so began the Mac vs. PC war that still rages today.
Apple did kind of flounder in the ’90s when founder and wunderkind Steve Jobs was dumped from the company, but it did score a hit with the colourful iMac in 1998, which modernized and gave see-through plastic style to the bland beige-ness of that original Mac. In 2001, the company introduced Mac OS X, a complete re-imagining of its previous operating system, and that paved the way for Apple to pretty much dominate the world of tech today.
Thirty years later, most everyone has an iPhone or iPod, and in the world of design and publishing (including this humble newspaper), it’s de rigueur to use a Mac computer for your work.
So, while the Mac’s 30th birthday does indeed have me feeling a tad ancient, I still have hope that in my own way I, too, can be a little like Apple. After all, some things are supposed to improve with age. At least that’s what “they” say.