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.
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.