Infinite Loop 21: The Macintosh Community and Myth

This is a revised, up-dated and very much expanded
version of a sweries entitled “Mac Communitarianism”
that first appeared on the now deceased “MacOS
daily” site back in Feb. of 2000.]

In the last
Infinite Loop
I looked at communities generally
and applied what I found to the Mac Community
specifically. In this article I continue on the
same lines but look at the myths and origins of
the Mac Community. I want to examine the role
of myth in creating communities generally and
the Macintosh Community in particular.


A community is a network
of dependent relationships which confer
a sense of meaning and belonging to its members.
In a town, for example, the grocer depends on
the farmer who depends on the cooperative who
depends on an industry. This forms a network of
dependent relationships. The same is found in
the workplace and family. In these contexts the
dependent nature of the relationships is more
evident. The husband and wife depend on one another;
the children depend on them, and all depend on
the main bread-winner.

A community also bestows a sense
of meaning or belonging on its members. Notice
the pride when one says “I am from . . .
” (place name of city in the ellipses). A
community gives a point of contact for our identity
and connects us with something larger than ourselves,
something which bestows a sense of meaning, a
sense of belonging, on us. For lack of a better
phrase, I will called this a “we-ness.”

Communities are made of smaller
communities. A town is made up of a community
of smaller communities we call ‘families.’
There are other communities such as churches and
social groups. Each gives a different dimension
to our identity by connecting us with others with
whom we share beliefs, goals and lifestyles. This
does not mean communities can not be in conflict.
They can. But, the existence of the conflict,
its severity and resolution are all determined
by the community itself.

Myth and Community

Most communities happen accidentally.
People just end up in the same places at the same
times and form a network of relationships. This
much is uncontroversial. As the community is formed
there are certain stories the community creates
which strengthens its bonds and identity. A simple
group is transformed into a community through
these stories. These are called “myths.”
Myth is a community-forming narrative that confers
a sense of identity and we-ness on those the myth
concerns. Myth may or may not be true; but that
is besides the point. Myths are stories which
define the original and heroes of the community
in question and thereby define its identity. In
America we have “I can not tell a lie: I
chopped down the cherry tree,” and George

The archetypal example of myth is
the Greek poet Homer. By writing about the Greek’s
heroes like Achilles (and his flaws), and by examining
the origins of the Greek people through their
victories at Troy, he helped to create the Greek
identity. He defined what it meant to be Greek.

I hope you can see where I am going:
There are many myths surrounding the origins of
the Macintosh Community and its “heroes”
as it were. (Recall that they need not be false.)
In fact, they help us define what it means to
be a Mac user. Myths are also moral stories containing
moral teachings. This is found in Macintosh myth,
too. We all know some of them. It started in a
garage; the greatest commercial that ever ran
during the Super Bowl; the rise and fall and rise
again of Steve Jobs. And if one thinks about it,
Macintosh Myth has some striking similarities
with Homeric myth. There are heroes a villains,
irony, battles and defeats in Mac myth.

Macintosh Mythology

Macintosh myth involves heroes and
risk. There is Steve Jobs the “whirlwind,”
the meek “I only want to design” Wozniak,
and the forgotten founder Ron Wayne who nervously
quit early in the game with $500 and started a
coin shop. They were, at that time, people who
had certain talents and desires who were at the
right place at the right time. They were, from
an outsider’s perspective, undistinctive ragtag,
and aimless jokers. They had no money; creditors
were coming. But they had a vision.

No one knows why exactly, but as
Woz and Jobs were driving along one day, Jobs
looks over and says, “Let’s call it “Apple.””
Woz says he didn’t know why but it sounded perfect.
It was.

They worked out a garages and bedrooms,
sometimes with less than perfect results. Woz’s
talent was that he could simplify design, and
he reduced the number of chips and transistors
in every machine he made. They were the simplest
at the time. But no one knew about them other
than Homebrew Club.

Then the single most important event
in Apple history (according to Wozniak): A little
computer store called “The Byte Shop”
bought 50 computers for $500 each. Jobs delivered
them just on time and stayed the creditors. The
company takes off. Within years they had more
money than most of us can only dream of ever having.
The “1984” commercial runs. The Mac
is introduced

Macintosh myth also involves
hubris, betrayal, sadness, and irony.

Jobs rises to the top of the computer
world. He was an instant millionaire on paper.
Jobs is nicknamed “Reality Distortion Field”
by employees because of his powers of persuasion.
The Apple III fails. Jobs asks John Sculley, then
at Pepsi, “Do you want to sell sugared water
for the rest of your life or change the world?”
Sculley joins Apple. Jobs given Medal of Honor.
Behind Jobs’ back Sculley strips him of any
operating role (almost while toasting him at a
party). Jobs plots revenge. Sculley, on his way
to China, is told of Jobs‘ coup. He cancels
the trip and returns to Cupertino. He confronts
Jobs who says, “I think you’re bad for
Apple and I think you’re the wrong person
to run this company.” Sculley calls Jobs
a “monster.” The board meets and is
asked to take sides. Jobs is gone. He takes important
company people with him. Sculley gives Bill Gates
code. Windows is born. Jobs starts NeXT while
trying to convince NASA to let him ride on the
space shuttle. Next fails. NASA does not allow
Jobs on the Challenger, which exploded in mid-flight
with another civilian aboard. Sculley steps down.

The brilliant Woz takes flying lessons.
He buys a plane; he logs time in the air. He is
involved in a plane crash and loses his memory
for some time. The brilliant Design engineer loses
his memory! Slowly he comes back, but he leaves
Apple, gives away his money, promotes rock concerts,
and receives award after award for inventing the

Macintosh myth also involves
revenge, redemption and homecoming.

Spindler comes to Apple. He makes
the deal for the PowerPC. Spindler isolates himself.
Spindler leaves Apple. Gil Amelio steps in. He
makes a pact with the devil himself, Steve Jobs.
Apple acquires NeXTStep, Jobs’ company (some wonder
if this was not Jobs buying back at Apple, with
all we know now). Amelio leaves Apple. Jobs returns
as “Interim CEO.” The crowds go nuts;
hopes are high. Jobs makes a pact with the devil
himself, Bill Gates, who bought $150 million of
AAPL. Jobs takes charge. The Newton is gone; the
confusing product line is gone. The iMac is introduced;
the iMac becomes one of the best selling computers
of all time and puts Apple back in competition.
The G3 is introduced. The G4 is introduced. System
9 is released. OS X is previewed. Jobs drops “interim”
but wants to be called “iCEO” anyway.
The iBook is introduced. The Pismo is released.
TiBook is released. OS X is almost ready. AAPL
soars to an all time high; AAPL sinks to 20. Apple
is more profitable than it has been in 17 years.
The board buys him a plane. Sculley looks on.
Jobs has his revenge.

These are our myths. These are our
stories. Every community has them. In this case
they describe the origin of this wonderful machine,
the Mac. Without these stories, if they had never
occurred, there would be no local user groups,
Mac web forums or “Stores within a Store.”
We would not have the community identity we have
today as Mac users. But they are also moral stories
with lessons for all of us.

We strangely identify with all the
characters. We look at some with moral ambivalence.
We imagine what we would have done if we were
in their place. We test our character against
their character. Would we have been the one to
beg off for $500 as Wayne did? Would our nerves
get to us when the pressure was on and we back
out? Would we have missed that once in a lifetime
opportunity like Wayne? Perhaps we feel we are
in the wrong place given our character like Spindler.
We all have a Sculley or two in our lives, don’t

Perhaps we wish to identify with
Wozniak. Wozniak is the moral center of the story.
He‘s the one we want to identify with most.
He is common. He is gentle. He is kind. He just
wanted to design. As he told me once “I am
a design engineer.” Yes, and a very god one!
He did what he did out of intellectual excitement
and challenge. He is brilliant. While he welcomes
wealth it embarrasses him nonetheless. He gives
his time and wealth to children and education.
He is balanced. He lacks hubris. There was no
fast rise to the top and quick fall to the bottom.
He stayed above it all and left unharmed, with
his character intact, it seems. Sure, he had failures
promoting rock concerts. But he always kept his
center and a sense of humor, it appears. We would
like to think this is what we would do. But would

And then there is Steven P. Jobs.
He is the ethically ambiguous hero. Is Jobs a
“monster” or just an out-of-place genius?
Or neither? His abuse of employees is famous;
his temper monumental. We draw him near and push
him away simultaneously. The rise and fall and
raise again of Jobs instructs us. While Wozniak
represents what we would like to do, Jobs represents
what we fear we might do. Hope. Vision. Power.
Hubris. Downfall. Return. The pitfalls of wealth
of fame. How would we have acted? Would it have
been too much for us? We know we too can be arrogant,
mean, and rude. We want to be brilliant, kind,
and successful. Jobs’ journey also represents
homecoming, victory, and restitution. But in the
end he has come out, apart from the recent successes
at Apple, as level and grounded, if not at times
still a bit controlling. Jobs is a modern Odysseus,
seeking to reclaim what is his, and he has come

Maybe we need figures like this.
We identify with them because we see the same
qualities in our own lives. Their loses are ours
loses, their frailties are our frailties, their
victories are our victories. Jobs’ ultimate return
and success are our hope too, just as they are
with anyone we look up to or who is in a position
we’d like to be in.

It may not involve founding a company
or risking millions, but we are faced with the
same decisive moments in our own lives. Maybe
we are founding a family and risking only $1000.
We all know people to whom OUR success is the
best revenge. Myths, the stories of a community’s
founding, are mirrors and measuring sticks by
which we look at ourselves and measure our character,
be they Mac myths or others. They transport us
through ethical imagination to situations which
both build and reveal our character. Think about
it . . .

Next time I will look at disagreements
within a community, and within the Mac Community
in particular.

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