Vale Steve Jobs

Somewhere amongst the tsunami of comments in the last few days on Steve Jobs’ death, I read that there were 3 important Apples in history.  The first was the apple eaten by Eve; the second was the apple that fell on Isaac Newton’s head; and the third was the Apple that Steve Jobs invented.  No doubt he named the Apple after one of the other two – after all, the company also produced an unsuccessful computer called a Newton.

Jonathan Mak

Jonathan Mak's wonderful image. I'm usually pretty conscientious about only using images in the public domain, but this one seems to have gone viral in the last few days, so I may as well use it too! I feel sure Jonathan Mak's future career in design (he is only 19!) is now assured.

My first computer was an Apple IIC.  It had a small, boxy screen cantilevered over a separate keyboard, and in retrospect the design was probably quite elegant.

In 1985 I was the first person in my department to get a computer.  On my casual teaching salary, it cost an arm and a leg, but in those days, you relied on the typing pool, or got your wife to type your manuscripts – not an option in my case.

Access to the typing pool depended on a pecking order, with casuals at the very bottom.  I bought my Apple IIC after one of my chapters languished there for over a month.  Luckily I could touch type, which none of the men could do.

At our school only girls in the commercial stream learned typing (along with other lost craft skills like shorthand, book-keeping and domestic science), but on a visit to the Ekka (Brisbane’s agricultural show) in my senior year, I won a typing course.  For weeks I spent my afternoons sitting at a typewriter in earphones, following instructions to type F, J, G, H, etc.  The neural pathways I acquired that year are now broad highways through my brain.

I wrote my first book on the Apple IIC, in a pre-Bill-Gates operating system called ProDOS.  This involved adding lots of strange instructions to the text to get italics or indentation – what you saw was nothing like what you got.  I saved the files to 5¼ inch floppy disks which eventually grew mouldy.  I printed off quite a lot of these files, on a dot matrix printer on special computer paper, because you could only work on one file at a time.   This is fortunate because the files are unreadable today.

Thanks to that book, I got study leave for the first time in 1988.  By then I was hooked on computers, but I needed a laptop for travel, and Apple didn’t yet make one.  Instead I bought a Toshiba with the new standard operating system, MS DOS.  My new Toshiba had a narrow band of LCD screen showing 2 lines of text, just adequate for note taking, but almost impossible for serious writing.  All the same, I rewrote my PhD for publication on that Toshiba, and gathered notes for another book.  I printed quite a few of these files, but a lot remain on the 3½ inch disks.  They are unreadable today.

During that leave, I also discovered email.  Having email in 1988 was like having a telephone in 1888, because there were so few people you could communicate with, apart from tech heads.  It took a while for email to penetrate the Arts Faculty back home, but computers eventually became standard issue at university – and that issue was Microsoft, not Apple.

IPods passed me by, so I never used an Apple again until I bought my first iPhone in 2008, and became a convert.

I’ve taught European history long enough to recognise the symptoms of religious mania, and my conversion fits the profile.  I followed the iPhone with a Mac, an iPad, and recently a MacBook Air.  The iPad (700g.) cost me $A700; the Air (1100g.) cost me $A1100 – so my Apple mania comes at a cost of $A1 a gram, or roughly 3 times the price of smoked salmon.

Recently my iPhone packed up, and I went to the local Apple Store to see what I could do about it, short of replacing it 3 days before a new upgrade was to be announced.  I found I could hand in my old phone, pay $A109 (= 3 sides of smoked salmon) and get a recycled phone.  Synched with iTunes, and it’s essentially the same phone.  No gorillas in Rwanda were killed in the quest for rare earths – and I hope no Chinese workers suffered either.

I no longer print out most of my files, because I carry them around with me on my iPad – and no doubt, one day they too will be unreadable.  Sorry, future historians.

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One response to “Vale Steve Jobs

  1. Pingback: Political Partners | Historians are Past Caring

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