On the weekend, Finch and I were talking about my need for a “Technology Diet.” I have this incredible acquisitiveness for shiny pretty things that make a digital whirr. Finch likes to snap unexpected shots of me in bed embedded in my macbook or iphone, or in some ludicrous place, like the Svalbard terrain or the top of the Yorkminster tower. (I just spent a ridiculous amount of time searching fruitlessly for the Svalbard photo among my FIVE backup drives; I really need to organize this).
The “Diet” we were talking about was less about how much time I spend connected or online — that’s a whole other question — but rather, just sheer acquisition of STUFF. In the last year, I’ve acquired two new cameras (a fancy Lumix compact plus my beloved 7D), two new lenses (100 – 400 and 10 – 22) and my macbook air. Started discovering Photoshop and all of its secrets. I still use my sturdy MacBook Pro for half my work and all of my media storage and processing. My iPhone is never far from my fingers, and I’ve accumulated lots of peripherals, like dongles and external optical drives and storage drives and extra chargers and card readers and and and… I’ve fondled the iPad at least 12 times before sadly admitting that I just don’t NEED it. And now that I’ve started diving, there seems to be an endless array of New Kit I Need. I need, we decided, to go on a Technology Diet. Spend a year without acquiring any new technology.*
We had that conversation, poignantly, just before Steve Jobs died. I was struck, on hearing about his death, at just how intertwined with Apple my identity as a creative, adventurous, active person is. I first touched a Mac in my aunt and uncle’s house in the late 1980s, typing my final paper for my Master’s program on it, then traveling with my uncle to his school to print it on a GASP! laser printer. My feat unnerved at least one of my professors, who groused about how it looked too slick. My current beloved 11 inch MacBook Air is my 10th mac. But… why so entwined?
I have an indelible memory of an early powerbook print ad that had a woman sitting on the edge of a rockface (the grand canyon?), dwarfed by sky and crags, with a powerbook on her lap. The copy said something like “it will let you run away.”
I heard of Steve Jobs’ death before I went to sleep, and this morning, befuddled by jetlag, I woke early and went looking for the ad. Tons of vintage apple print ads online, but I couldn’t find that one. But it seems to be an outtake from a tv ad:
I love the way this woman is caressing the big round trackball. I bought a powerbook 145B sometime in the early 90s, and I … fused, somehow, with the tactile aspects of the design. Yearn for the iPad not for what it can do but for the smooth strokes of the interface. And, like the woman in the ad, over time, the technology has let me… run away.
My peripatetic, distributed life can be directly mapped out in keystrokes and invisible digital lines. First I tucked my life into the computers — my Mac Classic, my 145b, my G3 — and then it seemed, my computers started to tote me along. I found my first online friend via Compuserve on my Classic, a woman in New Zealand that B and I visited near Auckland, spent a night in her wall-paper peeling farmhouse, ran smack into her post-divorce crisis and a mad decision to sell her farm and ride her horse the length of the country. Tried to figure out if we should leave an equivalent of a B&B night’s payment in our room, since she was so clearly absolutely skint.
I had my G3 with me when I sat on my bed in a sea-moldy hotel room in Santa Barbara, dial up tethered to the phone, and downloaded a mind-mapping software to write my learning plan for my phd. (And discovered later that my “local dialup number” was not so local, and those hours online cost me $600. A terrible pattern repeated over and over as I hook up remotely).
I wrote my dissertation mostly in coffee shops, or airports, or at my then-partner’s house, on my tiny iBook and then my white MacBook with the twice-cracked case and overheating problem. (My biggest conflict with Apple: when I called to complain about the issues with that computer, and the call centre woman “corrected” me from calling it a laptop. “Apple doesn’t MAKE laptops, we make notebooks — you need to not use it on your lap, you need to use it on a hard, cold surface.” Remembering the woman in the grand canyon, I said, straining to be patient, “but Apple INVENTED this category — powerbooks are supposed to FREE YOU from the desk!” They sent me a new battery).
I traded that white lemon in for a shiny MacBook pro, which quickly fell victim to my epic coffee spill in White Rock — and then for its shiny twin, which died a watery death three months later. By this time, I’d taken on the habit of taking my macs to bed with me — to watch downloaded tv shows, to read the internet, to talk to my invisible friends. The technology let me have that experimental year half on the coast and half in TO, connecting to meetings across time zone by skype, my top half groomed and my bottom half in ducky jammies.
Somewhere in here, my macs moved from technology to something akin to organs. I gouge holes and scrapes in my keyboard, blurring the edges between fingertips and keys. When I’m alone, my mac and iphone are in the bed next to me; when I’m not alone, they’re on the floor. When I’m supposed to be able to be online but I can’t — I actually feel physically edgy, physically constrained, in the way that people with OCD or something describe feeling when their floors are sticky. The flow is off, the channels blocked.
The technology that let me run away — lets me have a partner in England, run a project in Uganda, do a phD across a continent, be so linked to my closest friends who are scattered everywhere, fulfill most of my commitments to my colleagues, my clients wherever I am — gives me music and photo editing and connections and television and film — I realize it’s a paradox. I run away and am tightly tethered, bound like Gulliver in Lilliput by invisible lines. My world has been created as it is because of Apple, shaped and bounded and enabled. It’s more than product loyalty — it’s device embeddedness, possibilities opened up not just for what I do but who I AM. Can’t fathom my own personal life without Steve Jobs, over-connectedness and all. RIP, Steve. Thank you.
*Except maybe a marine casing for my compact camera for dive photography. And a dive compass and computer.