Cult of the Mac

Source: Stephen Howard, "The Cult of the Mac and the New," BMUG Newsletter 4:2 (Summer/Fall 1988), 251-252.
Location: M1007, Apple Computer Inc. Papers, Series 12, Box 13, Folder 1.

(Just for fun, imagine that this piece of hallucinogenic prose was written by a rhetoric major on caffeine during finals.)

Even people who consider themselves to be 'power users' are mostly unaware of what is affecting them.

They may worry when vaguely important icons appear in dreams, but they still shake their heads (to hide the smirk) when a friend exclaims, "there's a new version of Word?!" Those with a pleasant disposition may find themselves at a local user group, while the other sort clips articles from Mac Week. Both will be sure to read John Dvorak wherever he appears, but the exact content fades from memory... leaving a brisk, bracing sensation like a needed cold shower. That tingle fades too, replaced by a numbness, married to compulsion, which leads the individual to the altar again. To search the tracts of Excel or HyperCard again; to seek the spark of vitality that gives the endless ritual meaning.

These are the trying times, the months or even years of darkness before the initiate can fully grasp the sublimity he seeks. For the few (are they lucky or accursed?), inspiration will come and they will pierce the mysteries of the Cult of the Mac and the New. When they do they will learn of an invisible struggle being fought around them, every quarter.

Even in the beginning the two were together. By the harsh television light of 1984, the two great spirits took possession of a million hearts and from this home began an assault on ten million minds. This battle rages today; its aggression manifest in the spirit of the New. But the earliest victories were won by the spirit of the Mac.

Anyone who says he saw the Mac before the summer of 1984 is either a fool or a demigod. The fools saw the carpentry, the plumbing, of a house where no one lived. The demigods were the builders, laboring under the pirate flag, who built the home the Mac would inhabit. A fine home it is, too, but the spirit in the machine is not the machine itself.

The spirit of the Mac is close, friendly, and warm. It is older than we and though eccentric at times, it possesses an easy grace that speaks quietly of experience. This is the smiling face which attracted so many in the beginning. Most were more refugee than pioneer, and they settled in with the Mac as with a new companion. Computing was familiar sex then; being together was what mattered most. (p.252)

Mac societies formed almost immediately. As yet there was no canon, so meetings were sites of spontaneous public avowal and community confirmation. Also at these meetings, the followers of the New began to appear. Their instincts brought them, though often their minds failed to fully grasp the urge. Amidst the contented smiles of the followers of the Mac, they looked upon the beige box and many turned away from the "toy." Others looked and smiled, knowing that this would eventually be the house of the New. Their smiles had a difference.

The spirit of the New is the punkish counterpart to the Mac. It is imposing, brash, and hot. Forever too young, it is often clumsy and short-sighted. This is the bright sparkle in the eyes of the original pirate builders, and it certainly transfixed the vision of their captain. Most of the followers of the New were elsewhere in 1984, but the few with foresight greeted their new toy with enthusiasm. For them, computing was not yet good sex, but with time and coaxing their toy would do what they had only dreamed.

Years passed, and the Mac slowly changed. The builders and their captain dispersed and went off to build a better house for the New. A second captain took the wheel and steered the ship out of dangerous waters (while dutifully recording his efforts in the log). This new captain, a Nelson to the earlier Drake, wears the smiling face of the Mac as perfectly as his predecessor reflected the sparkle of the New. Perhaps there is a hidden meaning in this continuing irony, or maybe just an old trick with mirrors, but each has managed to face squarely in the opposite direction his ship was traveling. While chasing after the future, the pirate built a home for our familiar friend; while following charted courses, Lord Nelson has moved us into a high-speed race.

The house of the Mac is also the house of the New, and its high priests are caught wavering between the two. The air is full of danger, and whispers of schism can be heard in conference rooms and labs. The wisdom of the Mac is being pitted against the promises of the New, and a happy synthesis is difficult to discover.

The initiate to all this is being taught an odd lesson: that a certain amount of pain is necessary. That it's the only way to achieve the power and pleasure of the New. Computing is deviating into masochism. For the followers of the Mac, there is little excitement in these developments. The recent victories of the New have created a dark forest of refuse and thrown wide-eyed newcomers into a confusing fog.

So we wait and hope that the spirit of the Mac will come again to guide us if we but listen patiently to its old sayings. The wisdom of patience is difficult to grasp with easy solutions offered around every comer. But though we be lost amidst vapor and flashing lights, there is a smiling face waiting to take us home.

Document created on 20 April 2000;