I remember the first time I saw a Mac in person. I was in middle school, but on the campus of the nearby college because my dad had a gig as a stand-in drummer for a local band.
While hanging out backstage—something I often had the privilege of doing from a young age as the son of a drummer—I saw a girl, sitting on the ground, typing away on a brand new MacBook Air.
The Air had just been introduced to the world, and I remember rewatching the announcement video online. Steve Jobs talked about the computer at Macworld only to reveal that it had been on stage with him the entire time inside a manilla envelope. He opened it and pulled out the thinnest computer in the world. I had no idea a computer could even look like that.
After my dad’s show I immediately pointed out the girl and her computer, and I remember him sharing my excitement so much that he asked the girl if we could look at it a bit closer. She was kind and happy to show it off and even let me hold it. From then on, I was hooked. I knew that’s the computer I’d own one day, and sure enough I’d get my first Mac, a MacBook Air, a few years later in high school.
And now Apple has introduced a MacBook Air thinner than the original iPhone. I wonder what middle school me, who coveted but did not own an iPhone at the time, would think about that.
I received the new M2 MacBook Air (in Midnight) a few months ago and I’ve been smitten with it. It is a cool, dark slab of silent compute, and it feels dense and book-ish in the most satisfying way.
The battery life deserves its own mention, and feels like a leap ahead for personal computers in its own right.
In all honesty I thought the time had come when a computer could not longer really excite me in the way that original MacBook Air did. But, this new one takes me right back there. It reminds me how lucky we all are to carry around devices that can conjure up all sorts of magic. And it takes me back to my beginnings in software when people wrote about the design of new iOS and Mac apps like they were art critics.
My life and friends and relationships and career are all in there, wound up with the electrons.
In setting up and using this new computer for the first time, however, I’ve realized how much devices today are like shells. The real computers, the ones that store our data and perform tasks on our behalf, are behemoths sitting in data centers. Setting up a new computer today is mostly a task of signing into various web applications to access your data, not transferring data onto the machine itself.
Our computers have become internet computers. And that might mean that the physical devices we own will trend towards nothingness—their goal is no longer to impress or inspire, but to be so small and light as to fall away entirely.
There’s something about that which makes me feel a bit melancholy. It feels like the days of computing devices being objects with personality and conviviality are fading. The computer is no longer a centerpiece, it’s an accessory, a thin client for some other machine or machines which are hidden away from us.