At the University of Idaho, where I earned my undergraduate degree, there’s a room with two floor-to-ceiling glass-paneled sides. One of its three entrances connects to the Einstein Brothers bagel shop (which in my day was simply a campus cafe called Common Grounds). I spent many afternoons in the glass-paneled room; it has a name, but I always preferred to call it the Quiet Room. There was a no talking policy, no noise at all in fact, except for the baby grand piano in the corner, often played beautifully by an elderly man who stopped by for fifteen minutes or so every couple of days. I never asked his name.
One day, ensconced in one of the faux-leather chairs, PowerBook in my lap, unfinished literary essay in a long since forgotten version of Word for OS X open behind my web browser, I paged idly through Slashdot or Digg or MacRumors. Glancing up from the screen, I saw a young man making his way across the room towards me.
"So, you’re a Mac guy?" he asked, but it wasn’t really a question.
Now, I am not what you might call comfortable in social situations and even more so with a stranger approaching me in my silent sanctuary.
"Uh, yeah." I tried to smile in the way an affable, approachable Mac user might.
"Nice, man." He flopped into the chair next to mine, rummaging through a messenger bag (a rarity at the time), finally producing a thin black USB hard drive, the cord wrapped in a snarl around its center. "I got into ‘em because of the music. What about you?"
I said something about ease of use; at the time I couldn’t say what I know now—that I love hardware and software that pays an unusual amount of attention to details that average users rarely, if ever, notice.
“We gotta stick together, you know? Check this out,” he continued.
With a flick of his wrist, he popped open his computer (a white plastic iBook), plugged in the portable drive, and brought up the Finder. Inside were folders and folders of music, easily thousands of songs. He aimed the screen at me. “See anything you like?”
Now it’s important to remember that this was many years ago. My thoughts on pirated music or software have shifted greatly since then, mostly in response to my desire to become someone who makes a portion of their income from content creation. But on that day in the Quiet Room, I was a cheap, naive college student in a bizarrely high-pressure social situation.
Whether I took the guy up on his offer or not is beside the point. We went on to talk a bit more about the Mac, until we started drawing looks from others in the room. Naturally, I wasn’t the only person who came to this place in order to get away from the noise. Eventually, he packed up his machine and headed out with a wave and a smile.
To this day I wonder if he would’ve approached me had I been typing away on a Dell or a Sony or a (then IBM) ThinkPad.
During the summer months I still take classes at the University of Idaho. It’s only a short walk from my house, and the course content still teaches me something new every time. And some days I sit in the Quiet Room in the same chair, wondering if someone were to come through the glass doors with a MacBook under their arm, would they see the Apple logo on my iPad and strike up a conversation? Or, in light of Apple’s recent popularity, would they see not a kindred spirit—another person who gets it—and instead see nothing at all, just a student (a little old for the university scene these days) hunched over a glowing screen, like everybody else.
Isn’t that what 2003 me wanted? An Apple computer in virtually everyone’s hands, a diminished Microsoft, computers thin and light enough that you’d hardly notice them in a backpack, battery life that lasts all day. It was. But now, instead of being “the Mac guy,” I’m just another guy with a Mac.
I suppose that’s better.1