I moved to SF in July 2020. One of the first people I met here told me their Dad used to work at Apple in the 80s. I responded with, “My Dad still uses a flip phone.” It was the only thing I could think to say back to her at the time. The idea that someone’s Dad had worked at Apple in the 80s broke my small-town Upstate NY brain. My “Welcome to SF” moment.
“Nobody bothers me on this.”
I honestly felt that.
When it was finally safe to travel again, I told him in person about the 80s Apple Dad interaction I had when I first got to SF. It became part of my last-ditch effort from a lifetime of attempts to make my now 67-year-old father start to embrace technology. “Her Dad worked at Apple. I can’t even get you to text.” Even if he wanted to T9 me a text, he couldn’t. He had a spam text get through to his phone a few years ago and immediately called his carrier to tell them to remove SMS from his phone entirely.
But his son moving across the country during the pandemic to go work “on computers” in Silicon Valley (+ some collective gaslighting) finally broke his back. After all, who would be left to update him on all the latest sports news via ESPN notifications in real-time now that pro sports were starting up again? (Go Bucs).
He had already given up on reading the sports section in our hometown newspaper, knowing that whatever he read, I already knew about from 3+ days ago and would have more updated info on the situation by the time he could get me on the phone.
On days he worked, he would try to catch glimpses of the games on the TVs of the places he delivered mail to. If a big game or sporting event were on, like the playoffs or the draft, he would tell me to call him with updates as they happen. When he returned to the warehouse each day, he would ask his younger co-workers if there was anything noteworthy that happened today in the world (of sports). But now, eyeing retirement, he was about to be out of options.
My Mom, who was more curious than him, got her first iPhone about five years ago—which also just so happens to be too long ago for her to remember her Apple ID password. The one saved in her Notes app is from at least 3 forgotten passwords ago. She couldn’t install the app on his behalf without creating and remembering yet another new but extremely similar password. There’s really only so many exclamation points you can add to the end before you forget how many you added. But before agreeing to do that, she would first question why ESPN even has an app. “Aren’t they on TV? Why would I need an app? App store? Does it cost money? Madone, you kids with these phones 🤌 🇮🇹”
Tbh, she had a point.
My Dad was right to be concerned too, though. My new job and now 3-hour time difference turned out to be just enough to cause me to lag in getting him all the latest updates on sports (and life). However, some things have been drop-everything-and-call-on-the-spot type moments. "Brady's back. We're not dead yet." I couldn't risk him getting to that one before me. He caved in and I ordered him a 13 Pro just before I left to head back to SF.
Yesterday I sent him pictures of me at the beach, and he texted back asking why I had a hoodie on in the middle of August. I read it before I could put my phone back in my pouch. His texting response time is fast these days. Less than a year ago, he had never sent a text message in his life. Now he’s out here watching Jordan highlights on YouTube in between texting the family group chats, checking his email, monitoring his stocks, and sending me today’s weather comparisons via screenshots. Today it was 95° and sunny in Upstate NY and (obviously) 65° and cloudy in SF.
His ability to use his phone effectively with no experience or training after a lifetime of rejecting technology is a testament to what the iPhone is and always was:
A computer that “just works”.
Many years before this, we were all unboxing our first family computer together. The idea of the computer being “the encyclopedia of tomorrow” sold my parents enough to get one. Except, we never had an encyclopedia in the house to begin with—so that was confusing.
When it was finally set up (by a professional), it sat there mostly unused by my parents. Instead, it was my sister and I taking turns tying up the phone line and doing hoodrat shit with our friends on AIM. Suddenly, there was a new place to get in trouble: The Internet. And, of course, I did, and got our AOL service temporarily banned for dropping F-bombs in random chat rooms. Luckily for us, the ban was lifted, but only after an AOL representative read word-for-word all my flagged chat transcripts to my Dad. That must have really helped get him off on the right foot with technology.
After that, we would occasionally log offline and let my parents use the house phone while we spent hours repeatedly entering the “rosebud” cheat into The Sims so we could be balling out whenever we flipped the switch on the old Gateway computer. Things were pretty good for us during this time.
For my parents, however, there was nothing enjoyable about sitting in front of that computer screen. Whenever they tried to use the computer, they quickly became frustrated and would call me over to help. Somehow I don’t think the computer future they imagined included having their 9-year-old son sit next to them as lead tech support. Plus, what did I know about encyclopedias that could help anyway?
After ~20 years, they’ve gotten better, but I still get called in for the big issues every now and then. Like the times I visit home, and they hit me with “Google got knocked off the computer again. Can you get it back for us?” Which I’ve decoded to usually mean one of two things, and sometimes both.
They accidentally trashed the Chrome desktop icon and now fear Google has been permanently deleted from their life and the collective world as we know it.
They accidentally installed some sketchy browser extension that replaced Google as the default search engine, and now they’re stuck in Bing-world or something unimaginably worse.
Either way, they’re the type of accidents that would never happen on their iPhones without intention.
I used to think, “maybe it’s just a Windows thing?”
I grew up obsessed with iPods after my sister got the iPod Nano. It was the only Apple product in our house growing up and my first introduction to the company. For a while, I only knew them as the company that made iPods. A couple of years after that, I saw an iMac in person for the first time after sneaking inside my friend's Dad's office. I remember being confused about how to use the buttonless mouse but equally confused that their Dad bought music on iTunes. It was always free on the internet for our family as long as you looked hard enough.
When it was time for me to go away for college, I was finally able to get my first MacBook. I had high expectations. It was clearly going to be a better experience than the bulky Windows desktops I grew up with.
It was better. But it wasn’tthatmuch better.
Things looked nicer. The logo lit up. I was able to obsess over my pirated iTunes library that finally synched properly. I could have iMessage up during class and pretend I was taking notes. I could even use Garage Band to make some mid ass beats.
But it wasn’t the collective life-altering experience that the iPhone was starting to become.
It was just another computer.
And that’s still true today. There has been no “it just works” moment with the PCno matter how many times he told us there was.
If there were, we all wouldn’t have the same adverse reaction to opening our laptop screens or sitting down at our desktops. If it were as easy and enjoyable to do things on our computers as on our phones, we would simply do just that more often and without pause. What we are silently saying is that we’d rather use our phones and give up being able to multi-task just to not use our computers. Something is wrong.
I struggle to use my computer every single day, and I literally get paid to be good at using it! That’s because being good at using your computer is hard. Just using your computer is hard. It requires accurate mouse clicks and drags, knowing what keys to press and when, and a learned understanding of window sizing and layering, among many, many other things. Almost nothing about the PC experience is intuitive or easy to grasp.
If you’re “good” at using your computer, it’s probably in part because you’ve taken the time to memorize a bunch of crazy keyboard shortcuts to use your favorite apps
easier faster. For someone who is just now starting to use more complex shortcuts (complex to me is pretty much anything beyond CMD+C/V), it’s no wonder most people just end up using their mouse to do most things. It feels safer and doesn’t require key memorization—even if it is painfully slow and clumsy at times. It somehow feels less bad to be slower with your mouse than to type the wrong keys.
And then there’s the experiences on your phone that justfeelbetter. Checking my email on my phone is way less overwhelming than on my computer. There’s less to take in, I can tap with my finger to open any of them, the viewport never changes size to disrupt my reading, and the gestures make it really easy to manage my inbox. Everything just feels smooth and intentional. I don’t need to find the window it’s running in or stretch my fingers across a series of keys to do simple tasks or complex actions.
On my iPhone, it just works.
Even with marginal hardware upgrades and iOS updates every year, the iPhone is still where most people expect the newest technological innovations to be (or the lack thereof) because of its rich history. I have friends who still text me after the keynotes to ask what the new iPhone will be like and if it’s worth getting. Maybe it’s because they know I’m one of the only people who still watch them live and want something to talk about with me. Or, maybe it’s because the last time they saw a noticeable change in our relationship with technology, it came in the form of the iPhone.
The iPhone has likely plateaued in terms of innovation, and that might be because it already has the optimal form factor and OS for a small rectangular glass computer that fits in our pocket. I think that’s okay; it has already done a lot for us. But I’ve yet to be asked by anyone, ever, about what the next Mac or MacBook will be like.
It’s ironic. PCs are still, by far, the more powerful devices. They have bigger screens, better ergonomics, faster chips, and more powerful tools. They can do more things, at the same time, faster. Apple Silicon and the new M1/M2 MacBooks are ridiculously powerful. But besides a small number of us who actually need something that powerful, nobody gives a shit—and I don’t blame them.
There are only a handful of apps, services, and processes where you will see a huge difference in performance. And in that way, it just becomes a faster way to get your work done. And for most people, that’s not exciting at all. I know it’s not exciting for me.
The personal computer has become increasingly impersonal. Most of us use these machines every day in some capacity. And many of us use them to create things other people use daily. We should probably work towards making our devices more accessible and more enjoyable to use, too, no? Or else, what are we even doing? Until there’s a major shift in what it means to have and use a personal computer, it won’t matter how powerful they become.
I’m not talking about expecting more from macOS Ventura or macOS Joshua Tree or whatever they decide to call it next. I’m talking about a complete rethink of the entire thing from the ground up that not only aims to create and democratize a new, accessible PC experience but that finally makes the personal computer actually personal.
Personal enough where anyone from anywhere could pick it up and feel empowered enough to create anything they can imagine. A personal computer that works for them and with them, not against or passively in parallel.
Or, at the very least, a computer I can one day sit my Dad in front of and have him feel as good as he does texting me on his new iPhone lol.
As things come to an end with my current role, I wrote this at 3 am after asking myself what I want to work on next and with whom. I don’t think I’ve answered either of those questions here, but hopefully I’m closer to knowing because of it.
If this resonated with you and you want to talk more about it, feel free to reach out. Better yet, if you or anyone you know is hiring for something like this, definitely reach out.
Otherwise, I probably won’t write here again anytime soon.
Or maybe I will. Idk, I’m tired.
Thanks for reading.
might delete — a sometimes but usually never newsletter of deletable thoughts