Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve Jobs

The death of the founder of Apple came as a mild shock to me, not because I felt any special attachment to him or his products, but mainly because he was younger than I am. Yet another confirmation that I’ve attained geezer status. In our family we’re of the PC persuasion. Our first computer, however, was an Apple II+, with a five-inch floppy drive and, of course, no hard disk. So I do feel a certain sentimentality about the brand. We’ve hung onto that computer as a keepsake and a sort of historic artifact.

The Apple II+ cost about $3000 in December 1982, when that amount of money was worth a lot more than it is now. It was my husband’s Christmas present in honor of my advancement to candidacy for my PhD, because I needed something to write my dissertation on. To run the word processor, I had to insert its disk and load it, then insert a different disk to save files. There was a rather short limit to the amount of text that could be shown on the screen at one time. When I reached that limit, I had to close the file and start a new one. The word count equaled about half a chapter in the chapter length I was working with, so each chapter consisted of two separate files. Even after we got our first IBM-clone computer, it took me a long time to get out of the habit of saving each book chapter as a separate file and accepting that I really COULD make files as long as I needed to!

That Apple’s operating system was DOS-based, of course, and not WYSIWYG. When I typed the code to underline a word or phrase, I didn’t see underlining on the screen. I saw codes. As for printing, our first printer, naturally, was a dot matrix machine that used rolls of perforated paper. Yet this cumbersome system revolutionized my writing and made me orders of magnitude more productive because it liberated me from the necessity to retype. I don’t think I could have gotten through the dissertation, with all the picky changes my committee demanded (at long distance, since we’d moved across country), if I’d had to type the thing over and over from scratch.

I owe my writing career to word processing and the Internet. Without the latter, I would never have found most of my publishing outlets, and of course there would be no e-books, which constitute most of my books.

There were many pioneers in the field besides Jobs, but maybe without his influence the personal computer would not have become a must-have for almost everybody. There must have been a reason why, when my husband decided to surprise me with a computer, Apple was the name that leaped into his mind. I can hardly imagine going back to the time when I had to drive someplace and stand in line to renew the car registration or make a bank transfer, a world without word processing, networking, and the convenience of online transactions that have made life so much easier—such as making it possible to find and buy books I wouldn’t have owned or maybe even known about in the pre-computer era.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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