Why I (Still) Love Tech: In Defense of a Difficult Industry by Paul Ford (WIRED)

The things we loved — the Commodore Amigas and AOL chat rooms, the Pac-Man machines and Tamagotchis, the Lisp machines and RFCs, the Ace paperback copies of Neuromancer in the pockets of our dusty jeans — these very specific things have come together into a postindustrial Voltron that keeps eating the world. We accelerated progress itself, at least the capitalist and dystopian parts. Sometimes I’m proud, although just as often I’m ashamed. I am proudshamed.

When I think back to those early days of tech, I feel sad. Something has been lost. Innocence?

I got my first computer, a Commodore VIC 20, 35 years ago when I was about 15 years old. At that time, computers were still considered expensive hobbyist equipment and the home computer industry was in its infancy. I learned how to program in BASIC, using my skills to write simple games for my friends to play. I upgraded to the Commodore 64 about a year later.

In my last year of high school, I formed the area's first computer club, equipped with two used Apple II's that were donated by a local business person. After I completed my A-levels, I, went off to university. I wanted to study computer science and electrical engineering.

The school, Drew University, had started a program a year earlier where every incoming freshman was provided with a with IBM PC with WordPerfect. It ran DOS 3.3. At Drew, I completed a course in Pascal programming. One of the projects was writing a basic text editor with a built-in spell checker. Fun!

Engineering school -- where I learned how to program microcontroller -- , graduate school (where I learned how to use UNIX), first job (programming microcontroller with video compression algorithms), second job, consulting, web development, another job, etc. all lead to where I am now; information security consulting. I help organizations make sure that information is accessible, correct, and available only to the people authorized to do so.

If computers didn't exist, my career, my entire life, would not exists. I would be without a means of employment. Computers allow every feature of modern life. Cars and planes have computers. Our food distribution systems are run by computer. I work in the IT niche of information security.

Without computers, the insulin that keeps me alive would not be possible to manufacture. It's an insulin that is more effective and has fewer side-effects than the insulin that were produced in the past. Computers manage the entire manufacturing process. Without the computers, the effort needed to create the insulin would make the manufacturing process not worthwhile. The insulin would not be produced.

A computer powers the insulin pump, continuous glucose monitoring, and glucose meter that allow me to manage my Type 1 diabetes. Without computers, I would have to boil my urine in a glass beaker, mix it funny chemicals and wait a long time just to get a reading of my blood glucose. Did you know that mortality rates of people with diabetes is lower than it was in the past.

Several years ago, I had eye surgery to fix a cataract. The ophthalmologist relied heavily on computers to help him with the surgery. The calculations and some operation of the surgical laser were only possible because of computers.

Some people will say that we survived without computers. But to that I say, some people survived better than others. Computers have empowered people in ways that few people consider. Some people will say, "Often I wish there were no computers so we would talk more in our relationships." That's a load of bullshit. That has nothing to do with computers. If you want to talk to people and build relationships, then go ahead. Stop using the computer as an excuse.

Considering what I do for a living, what my medical needs are, my life without a computer would not be anything like it is now. I can't fathom it. My life, the life I have had the freedom to create because of computer, my life would be barren.

In response to this writing prompt, Your life without a computer: what does it look like?

My son was being ragged on by one of his friends who apparently hated Apple products and Apple itself. His friend builds his own Windows gaming computers from parts ordered online and has an Android OS smart phone. I think he was also messing around with Linux.

This friend was constantly making "Macs suck!" statement to my son and questioning his use of his iPhone, iPad and iMac. My son would come home asking me how to get this friend to “leave it alone”. I told my son that the best strategy was to simply agree with his friend that he was right. To use the “Macs sucks” argument but in a different way.

But this summer, I met the kid and we had a conversation which ended with him agreeing that his choices are the best for him but aren’t the best choices for everyone. While I don't remember the exact details of our conversation, here's the gist of the "because Macs suck" argument I used.

Macs suck because you can’t open them up and upgrade/fix things yourself. Instead you have to buy what you need and then you get one year of FREE in person tech support or phone support from someone who’s native language is English. If there is an issue they patiently work with you to fix it. For FREE. This sucks because you really wanted to spend your weekends fixing your computers.

Yes, Macs suck because you don’t have to buy and install each new OS release yourself while trying to figure out if your system is compatible. Instead 7 years from initial purchase you can still run the latest compatible OS and install it yourself for FREE in the time it takes to get an oil change at the Jiffy Lube1. This sucks because you don’t get to find and compile the source code for that driver or application that stopped working.

Macs suck because instead of searching on the Internet for apps which may or may not contain malware, you are forced to use the App Store to install digitally signed and approved apps which are free of malware. Macs suck because you can also search the Internet and install apps that may or may not contain malware. Macs suck because you have the choice of shopping i the safety at the Mall or at trying your luck at the flea market. This sucks because you don’t get to spend exercise your skills in removing malware.

Macs suck because they are designed to work with other Apple products in ways that increase the value beyond each product separately. This sucks because you really enjoy the hours trying to get your smartphone to sync up your photos to your computer.

Yes, Macs suck.

What other reason can you list for why Macs suck? Leave a note in the comments section.

  1. My brother-in-laws 2007 iMac is running OS X 10.11.2 "El Capitan".