Miscellaneous Ramblings

That Old Mac Magic Isn't Gone, but It Is Fading

Charles Moore - 2008.04.10 - Tip Jar

On Tuesday, Frank Fox posted a riposte to my recent column in which I proposed that some of the magic has gone missing from Major League Baseball and the Apple computer experience. Frank says that he couldn't disagree more.

I appreciate the debate, but while standing my ground, I don't think Frank and I are as far apart on these matters as he seems to have inferred. It wasn't my intention to imply that I have soured on baseball, which I love, and I remain a Mac fanboy. It's just that it's not the same as it was with baseball prior to the 1994 strike that killed the World Series that year, or with Apple computer subculture prior to the second coming of Steve Jobs.

Perhaps its partly just getting older, something Frank alludes to in his article. I expect that Steve Jobs would unreservedly agree that Apple culture is radically different today than back when he and Steve Wozniak were launching the company out of his garage and in the early days of the Mac.

Baseball

Frank points out that baseball had weathered and survived contretemps prior to the 1994 strike, citing particularly the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal in which several players for the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series in return for cash bribes. Indeed, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James refers to the period From 1910 to 1920 as "a decade wrapped in greed," which culminated in the Black Sox farrago and was marked by falling attendance, which had peaked at about 7.3 million in 1909, then collapsed below 4.5 million in 1914, and never fully recovered until after the reforms swept in by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Baseball Commissioner, in the 1920s. However, while greed (or, more accurately, frustration with player exploitation and poor pay) sullied the 1919 Series, it took a more banal and less justified or defensible form of greed to actually cancel a Series in 1994.

That said, I really share Frank's delight at the Boston Red Sox finally winning the series in 2004 after a three-to-four generation dry spell. Here in Atlantic Canada, the Red Sox had traditionally and our "home" team for decades prior to there being any Canadian MLB clubs, and while that classic era predates my own serious interest in the game, many folks here remain loyal and enthusiastic Red Sox fans.

I was also glad to hear from a reader that MLB attendance has recovered since the post-strike slump, and to read that the 2008 spring training Grapefruit and Cactus League series enjoyed their highest-ever attendance. Perhaps the magic is coming back. I hope so.

Mac Magic

As for the Mac magic, I don't dispute that today's crop of Mac hardware is the best it's ever been, and that OS X is a singularly superb operating system. My newest Mac, a G4 PowerBook, has been a virtually flawless performer, now in its third year of service with me, and is immeasurably better than my first PowerBook, a 1996 PB 5300 (Frank had one of those too). I don't doubt that the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros are even better, and the next generation of 'Books, sketchy details of which are just beginning to filter out through the rumor mills, will be better yet.

In my estimation the aluminum iMac is pretty much the best value for the money Apple has ever offered in any computer, the Mac mini is a fabulous little niche machine, and the Mac Pro the best desktop supremacy computer Apple has ever built. Even the MacBook Air, with which I am personally not all that smitten, at least shows that Apple is still surfing the bleeding edge of design innovation.

To however, there is a je ne sais quoi quality, a sort of ineffable combination of cachet, mystique, and fraternity - and more - that just isn't there in the same way anymore. Macs are now just very good computers incorporating pretty much the same innards as their Windows PC competition, with a kick-ass great operating system, still special, but not as special as they once were in the context of the golden age of Mac subculture.

The Mac is now close to mainstream, and whatever else it is, the mainstream is not magic.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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