I think I first heard the phrase “The network is the computer” in the late 1990s. It was Sun Microsystems who wanted to convince us of this. I worked at a creative agency at the time, where we had pretty powerful Macs on every desk. We thought, sure, a dumb terminal or “network computer” was fine for office drones doing their menial tasks, but creatives needed more power than that… we needed to connect scanners, and color calibration devices, and weird disk drives, and work on ginormous Photoshop files, and things that required more than the VAX terminals we also used at the time.
Fast forward 15 years and what Apple has effectively given us is… a computer that looks like it’s nearly useless without a network. Hello MacBook Air. Don’t get me wrong… it’s a well designed piece of computer. The fact that it weight almost the same as an Eee PC I bought 3 years ago is not lost on me… nor is the fact that the user experience is probably 10 times better. But I still worry about where we are headed…
The MacBook Air has it’s place. But I just can’t help but feel like while hacker/maker culture is moving in one direction, Apple sometimes seems to be moving in the other… creating these sealed boxes that are definitely easy to use, but harder to open. Steve Wozniak must be turning in his grave. The Apple ][ was like the ultimate hacking machine when it came out… and now you can’t even connect a FireWire video camera to the MacBook Air.
In all this I hope Apple doesn’t forget it’s core creative audience. The ones who need Mac Pros, and need to install dedicated cards, and more drives, and tons of memory… The content creators. While the iLife suite gets these great improvements, many of us worry that the Pro Apps are being neglected. Does Apple take us for granted? Knowing that we’ll upgrade Final Cut Studio no matter what?
In the old days you could actually upgrade your computer instead of just getting rid of it and getting a new one. (You could even upgrade the processor!) I’ve been a fan/customer of Other World Computing for many years, and upon reading their write-up of Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event, it saddened me a bit:
Apple seems to be making things easier and more intuitive as well, but seems to be more enabling rather than empowering lately. We want to email our photos, Apple makes it drag and drop easy to put together one of four pre-made collages from our photos and pick an address to send them to. We ask for better tools to make videos, they hand us pre-built effects rather than tools to adjust them ourselves. We want to share our photos with our friends on Facebook, Apple automates and organizes it all for us. Are we as consumers going to gradually lose our ability to do traditional computing (using and upgrading) for ourselves as we conform our computing lifestyles to Apple’s one size fits all templates … and, as a result, is 1984 coming full circle?