Infinite Loop 10: “Fools for the Mac.”

I wrote
“The Mac Essence Parts I
& II
over at MacOS (before it
closed) in order to make one simple
point. Okay, so I used almost 3800
words just to say it. But every assumption
I make rests on a prior assumption,
and I want to make mine clear when
I can. So I spent the effort just
to say this: “The essence of
the Mac as a computer is that
it is a Universal
Turing Machine
; the essence of
the Mac as a Mac is that one
doesn’t notice its essence as
a computer.” But it is a very
important point and one I wish to
expand on here.

I focused
on the Mac as a Universal Turing Machine
(which is a mathematical model of
the computer, or rather computation
itself) because I think many have
forgotten this is all it is. But I
think this is exactly what Apple and
Steve Jobs want. They want to design
a computer that hides the fact that
it is just a computer. That explains,
I think, the Mac user experience we
all go so nuts over.

Essence” was very philosophical.
But I treat my readers as though they
are thoughtful people who, if they
must, are willing work to understand
what they read. Sometimes I make you
work. At any rate I don’t dumb
things down or try to be artistic
all the time; sometimes, I just do
some serious thinking and, by writing
anything, invite you to join me if
you are on the same path. But within
the dialectics and logic of these
articles there is a very simple point.
It can be summarized by six propositions.
I state them here.

I needed something to explain. So,

  • People love the
    Mac; this is the “Mac experience”
    which I simply called “enjoyment.”

That is
the data, as it were, I was trying
to explain. Obviously, I cannot use
the user experience in any explanation
of it. I took it for granted. So I
am asking, “Why do people love
the Mac so much?”

  • The essence of
    the Mac as a computer is
    a Universal Turing Machine (UTM).

This too
is obvious, but it has become not
obvious. And that is the important
point. When I laid down the challenge
in Part I none of the attempts at
meeting it I received acknowledged
this obvious fact. It as if people
had forgotten, and they had. This
is important, as you will see.

  • The “Mac experience”
    is not explained by its essence
    as a computer (a UTM).

I gave
some serious argument for this point
which I will not repeat them all here.
You’ve read them. The simple
point is that other things have a
UTM as their essence and yet we do
not experience them in the same way.
So it cannot be what is common between
these things (a UTM) which explains
the Mac experience. Thus, it must
be explained by elements other than
its essence. So,

  • If the Mac experience
    is not explained by the essence
    of the Mac as a computer, then
    it must be explained by something

This is
obvious. So, what is this “something
else”? To get at it I make a
distinction between the essence of
the Mac as a computer and its essence
of a Mac as a Mac. After all, a UTM
does capture the essence of the Mac
as a computer yet it does not explain
the Mac experience. The original question
was about the essence of the Mac and
not the essence of a computer, which
the Mac happens to be. So in one sense
saying the Mac is a UTM doesn’t
answer the question. So instead of
asking what the essence of the Mac
as a computer was, I asked what the
essence of the Mac itself was. I needed
something that, in my mind, would
explain the rainbow of wonderful experiences
we all have on the Mac. I wanted something
that explained the fanaticism, the
loyalty and the sheer simplicity and
elegance of the Mac. So,

  • The essence of
    the Mac as a Mac is that
    one does not notice its essence
    as a computer.

I think
this is a very powerful statement.
I think this is the Mac mystique,
the whole of what we call “this
Mac thing of ours.” I think,
in fact, it captures the essence of
Apple. Apple has done the seemingly
impossible: It has made a computer
that doesn’t seem like a computer.
What would it be to make a computer
that seemed like a computer? One phrase:
Command line interface (CLI).

When you
work on a CLI the fact that you are
working on a computer is made obvious.
What I mean is, first, that its input-output
structure is obvious. You enter inputs
and gets outputs in a CLI. The same
with a calculator. Moreover, the script
or program structure of a computer
(a computer has four parts: an input,
an output, a script of program or
set of rules, and an internal processor)
is made obvious in a CLI.

This is
why people don’t have the same
reaction to Windows, as far as I can
tell. The fact that you’re working
on computer is not hidden well enough.
It fights against you, for one thing
(as John Martellaro told me once).
The use of extensions is another case
in point. C drives and such also make
the fact that you’re working
on a computer obvious. The CLI lies
just beneath the surface and you can
even go into it, making the fact that
you’re working on a computer
all too obvious. Of course, UNIX work
stations and such make plain their
essence, but they are designed for
other ends.

quite a trick to hide an essence.
It took some brilliant engineering.
It still does. I said in “Mac
Essence Part I” that how we react
to a thing is in a large measure determined
by its essence. Apple’s chore
was to hide the essence of the Mac
as a computer so well that we reacted
to it as something else. The amazing
thing about the Mac and Apple is the
essence lies hidden so well that you
in fact forget it. That is, you forget
you’re using a computer. Most
of this happens in the interface and
desktop metaphor. Yet, with the Mac
SE down to the G4 and iBooks, the
exterior body of this UTM is formed
in such a way that the mathematical
model the Mac is becomes attractive.
When you add the interface to this
hardware design you have something
we might call “a disguised Turing
Machine.” And that is the point.
That’s what Apple has been after
all these years, in my opinion. And
it is why Steve Jobs still makes much
of the unique position Apple has in
the computer industry: It controls
both the hardware and software OS.
This is essential to the Mac, for
it is their combination which hides
the essence of the Mac as a UTM. From
the smiley face and symphonic sounds
that greet you to the curved, shinny,
and clear handles of the G4, they
are all designed to make you forget.
We have a word for it: Magic. A magician
makes you think he is sawing a woman
in half when he is not; Apple makes
you think you’re not using a
computer when you are. That’s
the Apple magic.

In their
attempts to fool you Apple has accreted
many things atop a Turing Machine.
The “Think Different” campaign
is an example. “Think Different”?
About a computer? No. And that’s
the point. The myth and symbolism
that is Apple also works the magic.
Freedom, anarchy, creativity, simplicity,
elegance, all of these symbols and
instances are not the first thing
you think of when you think of a Turing
Machine. “Apple.” What’s
that got to do with a computer? Nothing.
(But “Microsoft”? Everything.)
It’s all a kind of a bait-n-switch.

So I conclude,


  • Therefore, the essence of a Mac as a Mac explains
    the Mac user experience.

and even obvious. But taken together they all
say something important.

a way, then, Apple is always seeking to
trick you, it wants to fool you. It wants
to trick you into forgetting you’re
using a computer; they want to fool you
into thinking you’re using something
else. It doesn’t matter what really,
as long as it’s not a Turing Machine.
Thus, as Charles Moore has recently said,
the Mac means different things to different
people. This is what you get when you hide
an essence: The “What is it?”
question becomes an open question and meaning
becomes vaporous. The human impulse to create
kicks in and we make (or constitute) the
thing before us. We then give our Mac a
name (as Adam gave the animals names in
the Garden of Eden), we anthropomorphize
the Mac, we become attached to it. We, in
effect, become fools. And indeed many millions
of people have become fools for the Macintosh.
I am a fool for the Mac. You are a fool
for Mac. But in the end, being a fool sure
is fun.

I am just thinking on virtual paper by writing
these articles. I hope you find them interesting.
We all know the Mac is insanely great. We
all know the Mac is special in some way.
What these articles represent, in a sense,
is a proof of these which you can
use in your Mac evangelism. If your Wintel
interlocutor ever asks “prove it,”
now you can do so, I hope. Thanks for reading.


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