I was clumsy, and I spilled some beer on the keyboard of my Mac Air laptop, bought July 9, 2014. I immediately started drying my precious computer, overturning it, and my greedy Mac didn’t gulp all that much beer, but….
I knew that liquid spills can easily kill a laptop. However, this beer fatality was a first time for me. I realized that only luck has saved me in dozens of my plane trips and train trips, where a few seconds of air bumps or rail vibration might tip a plastic cup and immediately drown a precious machine, the ally and partner in my everyday life.
The Mac Air immediately went dark. In bitter days to follow I struggled to get it back on its feet from its alcoholic overdose. But the battery had shorted out and the motherboard was fouled beyond repair. The screen misbehaved like delirium tremens. Beer is not so fatal to laptops as sugary Coca-Cola, but even pure water can drown delicate microelectronics.
I managed to retrieve my precious files from the faltering hard disk and I migrated promptly to a new Mac Air, the same model, but running the latest version of the OSX operating system. The machinery was the same, but in the meantime Apple had “upgraded,” or rather transformed, its software.
Normally I am delighted with any new computer: the newer models are always faster, stronger, brighter, more responsive, and so on, as Moore’s Law ruled in my lifetime. But in confronting the new machine, for the first time in my long computer-using experience, I realized that my experience had not improved at all. I had spent a lot of money to become worse off than I was.
I am not young, and I know that I am a woman of habit. I don’t much like the work involved when I change my computers, my favorite websites or my trusted software applications. I am quite an apt early adopter, but I don’t tackle machines just for the geek thrill of mastering new technology.
I had once been a Toshiba PC user, but I migrated to Apple because of their better design and ease of use. But the design philosophy of Apple has changed now that they are one of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the world. They now design computers for the sake of a massive client-base, and especially, they design for the needs of their own colossal computational empire.
Because Apple is an empire, it has become imperious. It dictates terms now, because it knows its word is law. Every new version of my former darlings, the iPhone and Mac Air, is more bossy, less friendly, less aligned with my interests as a person and crammed with cruel little tricks and traps that suit the interests of Apple and its revenue streams.
In the case of the new Mac Air operating system, all the icons and type-faces have been uniformly pared-down in size. The Apple designers are looking for some software uniformity in their empire of mobiles, tablets, laptops and desktop machines. They want consistent performance, more obedience, less trouble. That makes sense for them, but not for me, because I can scarcely read the screen now.
After some diligent online research from people other than Apple, I came up with a work-around that allows me to get on with my life: I change the Mac Air’s screen resolution. Unfortunately this means that Apple’s imperious applications tend to fall right off the edge of the re-sized screen, and there is no warning that large parts of the software’s screen real-estate have become invisible to me.
If you dig around in Apple’s preferences, you find all kinds of “accessibility” settings for zoom displays, voice-overs, speech commands and so on. If I were really severely disabled, I would likely be grateful for these special-service niches in the Apple empire, but the truth is that this Apple “personal” computer is no longer personal to me. It’s Apple’s computer.
I might not notice these slightly fascist tendencies if I were sharp-sighted, fit, properly trained to the modern OS and also young and therefore unable to personally remember a looser, more democratic regime of computational life. But I will never be a marathon runner, and it seems odd that a computer technology is confronting us with biological handicaps just for the sake of consistent software design.
The user-centric approach was supposed to realize that nobody is perfect, we all are unique, we think differently and so forth, but the world’s richest commercial empire can no longer afford that idealism, somehow. Our personal differences, functional, legitimate and social, have to meet Apple’s needs on Apple’s terms.
I got philosophical when this sudden imperial discrimination struck me personally. Isn’t this a political result of my own engagement in following Apple products so trustingly, for so long? We may not love the general policies of modern computing, but what else is out there in the 2010s world of computer-industry consolidation? At least, if you pay Apple’s premium for Apple design, you do get more design than you get from Microsoft, Google and other laptop manufacturers. It’s not design created in your interest or for your convenience, but there certainly is plenty of it.
My disappointment with my new Apple machine hit me like an unrequited love. I felt unwanted in the empire of the perfect Apple clients; it was disconcerting, a sea-change in a relationship, like a thoughtful boyfriend who has become an aging CEO, and now thinks he can order you around. I felt like a fool for failing to realize that corporate ambition had always been biting Apple. Sure, once, in our youth, we were all creative visionaries together; but now Apple was a colossal global conglomerate, while I was one among millions of busy typists in the planetary secretary pool.
But that role didn’t suit me, so I decided to rebel. All my hidden resentments came boiling up. I found that I too, shared increasingly famous discontents with Apple’s behaviors. Alarming digital rights management, ferocious demands for passwords and credit cards, automatic fill-in of mailing addresses that don’t work and create embarrassments, an Apple cloud eager to suck up every stray scrap of my data, strange incompatible formats to lock me in, new senselessly expensive plugs that Apple forces me to buy as well as cheaper, far more useful plugs that Apple slyly removes, and so on, blah blah blah.
But the general rule is that an empire is dictatorial. Apple is not a federation, much less a democracy or some movement of bright-eyed geek hippies. They are narrowly judgmental, full of public impositions that suit their own palace intrigues, frustrating their subjects instead of gratifying, educating, and sharing the world with their peers.
It is obvious, and I will not live in denial anymore. I understand how the relationship got this bad, and can see my complicity in it, but this situation will not do, and this too will pass. I am not Apple, but Apple itself knew how to strike back in guerrilla fashion, and what they did to IBM can be done to them. If they want to become General Computation — replacing General Motors and General Electric — then the ground game of resistance is just as obvious as their temporary success.
I can remember when computers were inadequate, clumsy, unpopular, geeky, devoid of cachet and huge ad budgets. I survived wars and I saw Communism crumble, so why should I passively succumb to my everyday commodities? Why transform a necessity into a vice? Why make “think different” into “think different, like us, or else”? Why make “information wants to be free” into “information about you wants to be free to us”? Why follow a globalised world of internet possibilities in a spiraling descent into (mentally) gated communities of one-percenter secured paranoia? Non passaran!