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I can’t say that my first exposure to the computer found me instantly smitten. I didn’t even know what it was and, looking back, it was amazing that my dirt poor Catholic grade school even had a computer that students were allowed to use. Not that we used it for much. The only thing I can recall doing with it was playing one of the lame original versions of The Oregon Trail. I can’t recall if we were supposed to actually learn something from the experience but, periodically, small groups of us would be sent to the small office behind the main office, where the sacred computer was housed, to “play” this game. Perhaps it was a teamwork thing?
No matter. I didn’t love computers at that point. With their dot matrix print and slower than blobs of spit drying on the pavement processing, they lacked even the basic personality of their fake television and movie counterparts. As far as I was concerned, even that most boring of video games – Pong … or Ping? was more interesting and I use the term “interesting” quite loosely, even for me.
There were computers at university. I have vivid memories of the Math Lab and playing endless rounds of games that were supposed to help me learn algebra. The tutors were so confident when they assigned them to me and so deflated when they realized that they were simply going to have to teach me math the hard way – by actually tutoring me.
I did not learn to love computers then.
My first brush with word processing was on an Apple II during my student teaching at Northwest Junior High in Iowa City. They had a computer lab with computers; thirty-five of them. Enough to take an entire Language Arts class at once. I would never have such a thing again in twenty years of teaching, by the way, which is more sad than I can tell you.
The program was FredWriter, an open source version of AppleWorks. Already possessing competent typing skills, thanks to dear Sr. Deborah back at Wahlert High School, word processing unleashed me, freeing me from my own bad spelling and typos with the ease of backspacing.
From there it was the Apple IIe and the Macintosh’s.
Not a single teacher at Hoyt Middle School in Des Moines wanted the Mac Classic when we were finally alloted our five. Five. That’s it for a school with close to 700 kids in it and 35+ staff members. The principal had to actually beg people to take one and try it out.
“Give my a printer,” I said, “And I’ll figure out how to put it to use.”
Between my Mac and a small writing lab with about 10 IIe’s, I taught every single kid who came through my classroom in the next three years how to use a word processing program. This was years before we had Computer teachers and well before English teachers began to stop regarding spell check as something evil and anti-dictionary.
Sadly, the first computer I owned was an IBM. Apple had a program for teachers to buy computers from them but they wanted over $1000 more than IBM was asking for a similar package. PC’s, I soon discovered, mostly suck. They don’t make sense. They assume that one cares about why they function and the programming that makes the function happen. Which is incorrect. The majority of computer users want the computer to perform. The DOS of it is beside the point
Sometime in the late 90’s, my school district threw over Apple for Dell. And Windows.
And I coped.
Learned just what I had to in order to do the things I wanted and needed to do, and missed Apple and Mac’s.
I didn’t own another Apple product until 2005 when their store arrived at the nearby mega-ish mall. I bought the cheapest computer they had – a cumbersome eMac which, in spite of its ungainly size and retro appearance, did everything a Mac should do. Work. Without my needing to know or care why.
Two iPod’s later – and really, the iPod saved my sanity – I finally had the capital to purchase my beloved MacBook. Sleek. Sure. Friendly. Wonderlicious. If ee cummings had owned one, he’d have written the perfect poem about it. If Hemingway had written on it …. well, okay, he still would have come off as whiny and effeminate, so bad example.
Shakespeare would have rocked the house with a MacBook though, that I am sure of.
When Steve Jobs announced that he was taking another medical leave not long ago, I knew he would die soon. He was lucky to have lasted as long as he did, but it was folly to think that someone with that particular type of cancer can continue to beat the odds forever. The last photos of him on the web clearly showed a man with little time left. And I am not so trite as to believe that even leaving behind the legacy that he has made leaving any easier for him or his family.
But isn’t he lucky to have touched so many lives?
I think so.
Rest in some kind of peace, Steve. And thank you.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.
Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address, 2005