30 January 2003


This article says exactly what I have been thinking many times. Some of you might read it and think it is some nerd looking down on a woman who just happens to not understand "computer logic," but if that's the conclusion you come to than you have misread the article. SteveJack, the author, is not putting this woman down (much) ... he is sad and angry at himself more than her, for being unable to enlighten her. I'm not talking here about "Macs rule, PCs suck" or that level of thought. I'm talking about a better way. By that I mean a better way to live, to work, to interact with a computer.

Most people think of a computer as the device with which you connect to AOL. Or do your writing. Or play games. You don't see it as any more than that. It is distinguishable from your toaster or your garage door opener only by the fact that you spend a lot more time with it.

But you are missing out on a whole dimension, nay a whole parallel universe, more depth that lays hidden behind that machine. Your toaster doesn't have that hidden depth, nor does your garage door opener. Even your car doesn't have it. But your computer does, and you are only cheating yourself when you treat the computer as an appliance. It's like treating a woman as only a sex object, or treating food as only something to keep you alive.

Let me see if I can define this a little better for those of you who may identify with the woman in this article.

If you know anyone who has a TiVo or similar type device, ask them this question: How has owning this device changed the way you interact with your television?

Believe me, you will get a full answer. A very happy full answer. I hope you have some spare time. :)

Now, ask anyone who owns an iPod the same question (substituting "music" for "television," obviously). By now, you might detect a pattern.

Finally, if you can locate someone who owns their own plane (if you can't find a plane owner, ask someone who has travelled extensively to foreign places), ask them how learning to fly has changed the way they perceive the world.

By this point, if you still don't get it, turn off the computer and go buy a calculator, a pad of paper and a pen, a porno mag, a Playstation and a portable CD player. It's all the technology you will ever need. :)

When you see me going on and on about how great Macs are and why you should buy one, I'm not really trying to get you to switch. What I really want you to do is get more out the computing experience. Can you do that with Windows? Why yes you can. Most people can get a great deal more enjoyment, more productivity, more efficiency and more just plain fun out of Windows, and on a far deeper and more satisfying level than they do now. I am stuck on Macs because they are by far a much faster, easier and aethetically pleasing way to achieve that level. If someone ever invents a computer that does a better job getting users from 0 to 60, believe me I'll abandon Apple and go with them. As David Pogue once brilliantly observed, "Mac users are not really Apple freaks, we're elegance freaks." The Mac happens to be the completely unchallenged champion of elegant and easy-to-use, but that just makes it the most convenient tool to achieve computer Enlightenment, not the only one.

In many ways, the rocky road of Linux/UNIX mastery can become an even more enlightening road to take rather than the silken escalator of OS X. Some people get to Nerd Nirvana only by flogging themselves with the really tough stuff: programming languages, driver writing, kernel patching, program compiling and so on. Some people just love taking their machine apart and putting it all back together with better parts, year after year. Personally I think this is the equivalent of having a car permanently up on blocks in your front yard, but even I must concede that valuable knowledge is gained in this process and I can respect that.

It is heartbreaking to people like me that I cannot find a way easy enough (or perhaps it's that I can't inspire non-computer-savvy people enough) to get them to partake of the higher level of computer wisdom. I don't want everyone to be a nerd: I would be out of business and have never met so many warm, interesting people if everyone were as good at figuring out and explaining computing as I am.

What I want is more smiles, more gleams in eyes, more "aha!'s and "Eureka!"s. What I want is more of the thrill I get when a senior citizen discovers that MP3s are not just for young people; when a student discovers that she can outline and summarize long documents and save incredible amounts of time on research; when a mom discovers a new way to teach her children about their heritage; when a man whose most advanced piece of technology prior to a home computer was a riding lawnmower edits and posts on the web his first video; when a family in a rural community share their experiences and chat daily with another rural family on the other side of the planet.

You're never going to get there by playing Solitaire and thinking AOL's Instant Messanger is the high point of the internet, friends.

I guess at the end of all this, all I'm saying is that I want to entreat you to push yourselves a little more (even those of you who consider yourself computer-savvy). A small amount of "risk" in terms of self-effort will pay handsome rewards when it comes to computers. Like the human brain itself, most people never use even 10% of their computer's potential.

Unlike the brain, however, we already know how to unlock more of that amazing experience. We (the technically-orientated community) just have to find the key to unlocking more of your desire. Yes, computers are still harder than they need to be or should be. Yes, it is easy to get distracted or bogged down from the Quest by onerous administration/tech support duties (especially with Windows and Linux computers). But push on and you will find some program, some area of the net or some technological "trick" that will reward you with an awed delight, like the first time you ever saw a magic trick. Can you remember that feeling? It's still available -- if you want it badly enough.

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