An Apple 40th birthday reflection

Birtday Cake 40

Summer 1984, Chapel Hill, N.C., I learned something about prejudice and discrimination in America and saw my first Macintosh. Strangely, looking back at Apple, which celebrates its 40th birthday today, the two things connect.

As I reflected in Jan. 18, 2004, personal post: "Racism and Naiveté", I never thought much about skin color growing up in a region of America where most everyone is Caucasian. Northern Maine is a white wonderland for more than abundant snowfall. Strangely, though, my best friends had last names like Chung and Zivic. The local Air Force base, Loring, added color to the populace, and when it came to people I was decidedly colorblind.

Because I witnessed so little racism, or discrimination, firsthand, I had no context to understand -- even when learning about slavery or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in school. Twenty years after that landmark legislation came to be, I watched the film “From Montgomery to Memphis“, and it changed my perspective. First, there was the shock about black and white buses, then black and white waiting rooms at bus stations,  and segregated bathrooms. Separate water fountains!

The same afternoon I watched the film, I wandered around the University of North Carolina campus contemplating the documentary. I ambled into the college bookstore, where placed prominently for anyone and everyone to see was Macintosh. I knew nothing about Apple, nor should I have not being a computer geek -- then or even now. But I nevertheless marveled at the graphic display. I had seen movie "WarGames" a few months earlier and recognized the dramatic differences between this machine and the one used by actor Matthew Broderick. (Hehe, Loring Air Force Base plays a role in one of the climactic scenes.)

The next year, I moved to predominately black Washington, D.C. for work, coincidentally. You don’t grow up white and male and suddenly have a feeling for what it’s like to be a minority or female of any race. One movie wouldn't change that, nor my long-time living in the D.C. metro area.

Hello, Mac

While residing there, I bought my first computer -- January 1994 -- months after reading a compelling story in Washington Journalism Review about the coming era of online publishing. I made a career change from general-interest magazine editor to tech-industry reporter. Except for a brief flirtation with IBM OS/2, I exclusively used Windows until December 1998, when I hauled a Bondi Blue iMac out of the local CompUSA. Curiosity -- and interest in expanding tech reporting beats -- prompted the impulsive purchase.

I came to love the fruit-logo company's products, while as a tech journalist developing a reputation for being anti-Apple -- which I am not. Several Apple fanboy bloggers fan the flames of hate through their criticism, sarcasm, and witlessness; they are defenders of the forbidden fruit and tolerate little real or perceived criticism.

I am not much bothered, as I don't typically read their posts or those from their accolades commenting on my stories (and other writers'). I abide by the "be hardest on those whom you love most" principle and therefore understand (and excuse) the misplaced "anti-" accusations. Few of my stories are kind, I concede.

I am not then, nor at anytime, have been a fanboy of Apple or any other tech company. The products are all just tools to me, and I use what makes sense at the time. Google gives greater contextual utility that matters to most everyone, but Apple does deliver things that make people happy to hold, look at, and use in a more human-like, responsive, and immersive way.

Apple Activism

In the nearly 18 years since I booted my first Mac much has changed. Apple has gone from being the little company that could to the behemoth that couldn't -- my first iMac is example of the one and the March 21st "Are you in the Loop?" event as metaphor for the other. CEO Tim Cook's innovation focus is customer retention rather than expansion, and maybe in the end that will prove to be the "can do" strategy.

Apple's empire is built on iPhone, which accounted for 67.4 percent of revenues during fiscal Q1 2016. Yesterday, Gartner warned that global smartphone sales would be flat in the two largest markets -- China and the United States. Existing iPhone owners in those countries could become larger customers, if Cook and Company deftly execute.

During this decade, Apple is also an activist, aggressively and vocally taking positions on real and perceived discrimination, equality, gender bias, and human rights issues, particularly in the United States. That includes the recent ruckus with the FBI about iPhone encryption. By contrast, the company showed little public social activism under Steve Jobs' leadership.

So the two threads tie together from that afternoon in 1984, when I saw America's bad past behavior magnified and a glimmer of the future displayed from a beige box. Prejudice and discrimination aren't easily swept away, and the United States still grapples with both. Eliminating either enables huge portions of our population.

Technology enables everyone, if iPhone's success means anything. No matter what Apple's future, over 40 years the company has succeeded to humanize technology and diminish the complexity using it. Nokia invented the smartphone two decades before Apple brought to market iPhone, which fundamentally changed the cellular handset market -- directly and by way of derivative, imitative devices released by other vendors.

Happy Birthday, Apple.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Sean Locke Photography

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