I’ve always thought that the desktop metaphor for computer interfaces was incomplete.
My laptop isn’t my desk – it’s got my ‘desk’ in it, certainly, but also my phone, my tv, my bookshelves and half my friends. Try cramming a dozen geeks into the drawer of your average office desk and you will soon discern the limitations of the ‘desktop’ metaphor.
A better analogy is that a laptop is a virtual room – there are the bookshelves over there, there’s the tv and games console, there’s the pile of reference notes, there’s the geek cage, there’s the nice background wallpaper. I am comfortable in my own room; I know where everything is, and where it all goes. (I admit that storing, say, one set of Laundry files in /documents/freelancing/Cubicle7/Laundry and another set in /documents/wordfiles/cthulhu/campaigns/Laundry isn’t the most logical system, especially as the whole ‘wordfiles’ hierarchy there survives as a legacy of, I think, my old 486 desktop machine from fifteen years ago.) When I’m using someone else’s computer, I’m very conscious that I’m in their space, so I must be careful not to touch anything breakable and not to leave crumbs on the floor. When my computer breaks, it’s like the door to the room has been shut and I can’t get at all my stuff.
As an aside, I apologise to any housemates who I ignored while playing World of Warcraft or working – you weren’t in the room, metaphorically speaking.
The first computer I owed was a BBC Master Compact, which in this metaphor was a kid’s treehouse. I followed that with an A3000 Archimedes, which is still the best computer I’ve ever owned, before the impending doom of the Acorn platform became apparent and I jumped to PCs. (I really must stop picking hobbies where talking about the impending doom of said hobby is a major component of it.) I’ve had three Toshiba laptops since 2004, and before that there were… two? three? desktops, all anonymous Dell motel-rooms.
And then there were the macs.
In secondary school (high school, for the Americans), we had a computer room, and in that room lurked the Macs – Macintosh Classics, I recall. I loathed those machines, primarily because ‘computer class’ consisted mainly of typing and basic word processing, and I was bored out of my skull. The macs were sullen, ugly machines that didn’t work in strange, unco-operative ways. I still especially hate the Apple error noise, that intrusive BLUNK that feels like some little macgoblin hurled a stone at the inside of the monitor glass.
It was a glorious relief to go to college, where they had modern PCs and the internet and Quake… apart from the student’s union office.
I was Public Relations Officer for the roleplaying club in 1997, and I was involved in running the society and Warpcon all through college and beyond. That meant spending a lot of time in the office, and in that office they had yet more Macintosh Classics. Possibly, in fact, the same Macintosh Classics, because these bastards were old. Gnarled, twisted machines. The keys felt greasy, but it wasn’t just grease, it was the liquid hate oozing from the computer where humans hands touched it. You had to clear the gunk out of the mouse ball tracker ever five minutes if you wanted to move the cursor horizontally, and I swear I found blood in there once. I’m just saying.
Those Macs caused more suffering in college than unrequited love for Cat Tobin; they destroyed more files than the burning of the Library of Alexandria; they inspired more heartfelt prayers than any burning bush. Getting them to print anything required the sacrifice of a black goat at midnight. Layouts that worked one day would spontaneously corrupt the next. The scanner was an especially bloody-minded bastard, with a habit of ‘warming up’ for a period of time that was exactly slightly longer than you had time to wait. Another machine liked to tear the protective metal cover off the 3 1/2″ disks.
I hated those Macs.
They were Room 101.
That was more than ten years ago, and I’m still traumatised.
I know, they’ve gotten better. People love their macs now, in a creepy cultish way. Gregor and Warren once cornered myself and Jonny Nexus at a Conpulsion and enthused about their macs like ergonomic zombies… and a few months later, Jonny was one of them too, and I swore I’d keep one shotgun shell for myself. Gordon – a fellow veteran of the student’s union office – turned to the dark side too. People I respected online used macs.
People I love use macs.
I bought an iphone and I love it. The iphone is the facehugger to the mac’s xenomorph.
* * *
I’m writing this on a new MacBook Pro. It’s mine…ish. I may hand it over to deli in a week, in which case I’ll buy a new PC, or I’ll keep it, and she gets another MacBook Pro. I’m justifying it as a financial decision; if it lasts four years, as she claims it will, then it’ll work out cheaper. Plus, I get to use scrivener, and everyone knows that writing a novel is really all about having the right software.
So far, it’s all very smooth and shiny, but uncomfortable. In the room metaphor, it’s like checking into a five-star hotel; yes, it’s very nice that there’s a concealed jacuzzi, but one doesn’t expect to the floor to suddenly fold back and start bubbling. I don’t know where anything is, but there’s a terrifyingly competent butler watching my every move. He glides up silently and tells me where I’ve left my socks.
I think he disapproves of me, but he’s too polite to say anything. I glimpse the occasional flash of scorn from the corner of his eye.
It’s a mac, all right.