First you have to understand that one of my closest friend’s husband worked for IBM and thus, I knew I wanted an IBM. Period. She shared all the IBM propaganda with me, and I watched with trepidation as other writing friends struggled with their Trash-80s, Compaqs, whatever else was around, because clearly, IBM was king.
Oh, and he said if somebody was on a budget, Apple was next best.
When my husband showed his unstinting belief in my as-yet-only-a-dream-of-a writing career by telling me to go to the local computer store and buy a computer, I was beside myself with shock. I was picking out my own computer?
I, who knew nothing?
Nothing at all?
He told me to be sure and look at the brand spanking new computer, the Macintosh.
I said, “I want an IBM.”
He said, “That’s fine. Look at the Macintosh while you’re there.”
I went in and first thing, the saleswoman took me to the Macintosh. She said, “Look at how it does graphics. Look at the screen, black lines on a paper-white background! This is amazing and new and super-duper!”
And I barely glanced at it, gave the mouse an obligatory peck to show I was listening to her, and said, “I want an IBM.”
Oh, but she was a devious saleswoman. She gladly took me to the IBM and sat me down in front of it, with its amber letters against a black screen. Or were they green? All I know is I had a happy place in my heart because it looked like my friend’s, and she had promised to help me learn how to use it.
I asked the saleswoman a question and she pulled out a very thick binder of instructions, and opened it to the right page.
And left me.
She left me staring at a page of gobbledy-gook and with a blinking cursor that wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. I struggled with the gobbledy-gook, and finally flagged her down, frankly annoyed that she had abandoned me. She perkily showed me what I needed to know and left me again.
Again, I got lost in the gobbledy-gook.
Again, I looked around in annoyance and tapped my toe and finger until she moseyed back over to rescue me.
I don’t know how many times this happened. I know that I was very frustrated because I wanted that computer and I wanted it that day and she was not helping me at all. I wanted to blow off the joint and go somewhere else, but I am nothing if not an impatient Pooks and a computer in the hand…
She must have recognized my level of tolerance for the intolerable had hit the red zone because she came over and asked me one more time, if I’d just take a look at the Macintosh.
“I don’t want to do graphics,” I said, “I don’t want a toy. I want a real computer.”
“This is a real computer.”
I followed her, most resentfully, to the Mac and took a seat.
Once again she abandoned me with a binder. This time it was a very small, very thin binder, as I recall. Was it even a binder? I think it might have been a pamphlet.
Oh this was just too much.
I was at the brink of blowing the joint–even without a computer!–when I typed my name.
And there it was on the screen in black and white letters, nice letters, not those funky eye-hurting neon things.
Without a soul to help me, I quickly figured out how to highlight and turn into italics–a single word in a line.
[I had a friend who printed out seventeen chapters in italics once because she forgot to put in the code to end the italics. And didn’t have enough tractor-feed paper to reprint those chapters, and had to drive miles the next day to buy another box. I knew all about tricky italics codey-things, even though I didn’t know how to do them.]
Sitting in that store within a couple of minutes of alone-time with that Mac, I could even change fonts.
[For the next few years while my friends were still buying daisy wheels, I already could choose my font, and it actually looked good on the page. Editors liked my manuscripts.]
So, okay. I admit it.
My husband was right. He knew me. He knew what kind of a learning curve I had ahead of me. He knew from what he’d heard and seen at work that I really needed a Mac.
The saleswoman was right.
They were right and I was wrong, and oh am I ever so happy to have been wrong.
I bought the Mac on the spot and I said, “I can’t wait until my husband gets home to set it up!”
She smiled. “Why do you need to wait? Just plug it in.”
I stared at her. “My friends all struggle to get theirs set up. I have a friend whose husband spent all last weekend trying to get hers ready so she could use it.”
“They didn’t buy a Macintosh, did they?”
No. No they did not.
I carried the box in and unpacked and plugged everything in. Connected everything with simple connections that plugged together like a phone plugs into a wall. Turned it on. Used it. Printed out something. Bounced around the house laughing and calling everyone I knew on the telephone to tell them about my new computer.
My husband got home to be greeted at the door by three sons, all waving pictures they’d drawn on the Mac.
And a very grateful Pooks.
Earlier today in her thoughts on Jobs the Movie, Vonda said, “…And I already had a Correcting Selectric, which up till then was the epitome of typing, and am a pretty good typist and an excellent speller. Nevertheless, getting a computer was world-changing for my writing life.”
Typing is the only class I ever failed in high school. I am not coordinated. Even my fingers are clumsy. When I first started writing novels, my approach to rewrites was, how can I fix this problem without having to retype more than one page?
I am not optimistic about my odds of achieving publication without the magic of word processing.
She also said, “But what really struck me about the movie was that it completely missed the excitement of having and working with a personal computer in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
And it evidently missed the excitement of having a Macintosh in 1984, of me bouncing and dancing around the house with a page of my writing, of children drawing pictures with a mouse and filling in spaces with clunky filler patterns and feeling like Picasso and running to hug their dad for buying this magical machine for them.
The magic of a techno-newb writer who not only could barely type well, but whose mind flew faster than her fingers could keep up with even when writing with a pen or pencil, whose life opened up like a blooming rose.
And more to the point than all of that–I assume the movie missed the power of a machine that worked.
For the following years, many years, I have sat by as friend struggled with software compatibility issues, with hardware issues, with system failures, with the blue screen of death. Except for the few years when I had a Dell, I have not dealt with these issues.
A friend who hated the arrogance of Apple commercials finally broke down and bought one so she could use Scrivener. And within hours–HOURS–she was calling me on the phone to say she was a convert, how easy everything was. How she’d been prepared to spend days getting everything to work, the way she always had to whenever she upgraded to a new computer, and instead, the Mac did practically everything by itself and all she had to do was just start writing.
Yeah, that’s a Mac.
“Why don’t they say this in their commercials?” she asked.
I kind of think they do, but people just don’t hear it, don’t believe it until they live it.
Back in 1984 I had a friend who couldn’t vacuum her bedroom without it knocking her printer offline. Something about static electricity? I have no idea. I just know that every time she vacummed, her husband had to work with the hardware until he got it all talking together again.
My original Mac still works.
Thank you, Steve Jobs, wherever you are. You changed my life. I owe you, dude.
Patricia Burroughs still doesn’t know how computers work and is typing this on a three-year-old MacBook Air.