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Posture – it’s everything, isn’t it ? The Apple Lisa and a curious onlooker

Story by First Mate

The IT industry of the past was not only managed by different companies like IBM, ICL, Prime, DEC etc., but within those companies lived tribes and families.  I was a tribal member within several tribes and more than a few companies.  It was good.  For over twenty years I enjoyed the protection and development provided by my tribal elders.

There was no such thing as job insecurity.  Everyone recognized the special talents of other team members and leaders and we put up with their foibles and sometimes straight out fuckwittery.  At the end of the day loyalty to the tribe was paramount.  Many great things were created and impossible deadlines were routinely met or bettered.  We were simply too busy to bear grudges or feel hard done by because we had encountered turds like Steve Jobs.  Life was a fascinating roller coaster ride and sometimes our tribes got wiped out by unfortunate turns of events, but there was always a galaxy of other tribes looking for talent and keen to bring us on board.

The seventies, eighties and nineties were rocketing along for anyone who could speak IT and like so many of our colleagues lucky enough to get our mittens on some cool electronica, and like so many people who actually touched Steve Job’s life in some way, the Australian computer cognoscenti too have boundless stories of derring do, outrageous behaviour and just plain madness.

There are stories of incredible sales feats (like conning the Federal government into thinking that flooding schools with PCs was a good idea and insisting that teachers somehow “incorporate them into the curriculum”) led to sales bonuses up to and including space travel.

And now – in times where the usual modus operandi is to watch your back and simultaneously duck shove your “colleague’s” career into oblivion to climb the greasy corporate ladder, the mind-numbing boredom of making no obvious mistakes has led to a dearth of interesting new folk-law.  Not tedious minutiae.  Real, death before dishonour, live-forever stories that even outsiders can appreciate.

But the authorised Steve Jobs biography is not one of those. Walter Isaacson has meticulously hunted down every snippet of Job’s not uneventful life, excused him for his tactlessness and poor personal hygiene and recorded every heartbeat, every morsel of junk food, every abuse of positional power and a mountain of toadying and skunkworks and implied that Jobs has been some new messiah.

Reading into the fine print, however, the truth appears to be a simpler notion – that Jobs was good at hunting down really clever but gullible engineers and appropriating their amazing ideas, incorporating them into a greater vision, flogging other poor bastards to make the great ideas a reality and then stepping back, taking the adoration and repeating the process.

Some of us who are old enough do appreciate the brilliant products that Apple brought to the world.  When the early iPods were released and had enough storage to hold an average western person’s record collection several times over and still fit comfortably in a geek or music aficionado’s top pocket (after the vinyl had been turned into MP3 digital files), the writing was on the wall for the record industry.  When video became portable and bandwidth became cheap, the same writing hit the wall for the print media industry.

Jobs was not alone in leading the revolution, but Apple’s recent products and service offerings have turned the digital life on its head and created many new good and equally bad paradigms.  Did you know that the numbers of pedestrians being mown down while crossing the street while they have been focussed totally on their portable communication engines has doubled in the US in the last two years ?  Same for the number of people convicted of traffic accidents that curiously involved them when they mistook texting for one of the important driving tasks.  Or do you routinely see cyclists as well as drivers too dumb to realise that plugging in an iPod takes away an important part of their survival arsenal – namely hearing a car approaching in their blind spots ?

Anyone who has travelled by train in the last year or so cannot but be surprised by the number of their fellow passengers with white in-ear headphones connected to their iPods, iPads and iPhones – or the pale Android imitations thereof.  This is a new host of individuals, acting like a flock of sheep.  Possessed by the world flooding in through their Interweb tubes, oblivious to the life going on just outside their personal spaces, indifferent and incapable of telling the difference between reality as it is personally experienced and some selective synthesis of a new reality conceived by someone else.

But enough of Job’s legacy.  On to the book itself.

Boring, tedious name-dropping crap.  Rich in its cast of characters, but with no more character development than the telephone book.  The hardcover book hit the stands at $50 a copy – an outrageous rip-off.

The Newton left pencil and paper shivering in their socks. Not.

So I read what I had hoped were familiar parts of the downloaded e-book -costing about half the hard back, looking for some of Job’s less successful contributions – namely the Lisa (named for his one-time shunned daughter) that was incredibly expensive for its time and lacked one important ingredient – actual software that did useful things, and the progenitor of the iPad – the Newton hand-held personal assistant – with the single failing that it didn’t actually work very often, or, looked at another way – it made simple paper-based tasks even more tedious.

This is referred to in marketing circles as “not a very compelling offer”.  These two Apple products died the horrible death they richly deserved.

There are a few pages about the Lisa.  I don’t know whether the Newton gets a mention.  It probably does, but the narrative on the Lisa was so boring, it made me glad that I had only wasted $25 and not the full whack for the hard copy.

In a nutshell, enjoy your Apple products, but don’t waste your time or money on the book.  It’s a major stinker – whether you are part of the IT industry or not.