I may be jaded, but Macworld doesn’t sport the same attraction as it used to. Some of the lost luster is due no doubt to my increased knowledge of the industry, but that’s not the entire story. In the process of figuring out why I was less than entranced, I realized something about TidBITS and the way I look at the Macintosh world. The show had too many me-too products, too many minor upgrades, and too many specialized high-end products that undoubtedly wowed the crowds as much with their price tags as with their features.
The Macintosh was once called the computer for the rest of us. Have we become the elite for whom that early Mac was not? I think not, and therein lies my dissatisfaction with the industry as reflected in the booths of Macworld. Frankly, the entire field is becoming niched out, if you’ll excuse my verbification. Live Picture is extremely cool (or so I’m told – I have yet to have the patience to get close enough to a demo). But is any product that edits pictures and costs some number of thousands of dollars intended for the rest of us? Is a QMS color laser printer that costs more than my car made for the rest of us? The answer in both cases is no; the rest of us can get by just fine with an $8.37 copy of Color It and a several hundred dollar DeskWriter C.
I don’t deny the validity or utility of these high-end, expensive, niche products, but at the same time I think the ever-increasing emphasis on them serves to divide the Macintosh world. Sure, that color laser printer produced nice pages, but when placed against a Honda Civic, I think most people would take the Civic. Drop the price on that color laser to the range of a DeskWriter C and we’ll all have one. So that’s the first dividing line – price. The prices of Macs may have dropped but that doesn’t mean you can get away with spending less money on a complete system.
The second dividing line is related to the realization people had about seven years ago. The Macintosh made desktop publishing a reality, and we’ve all seen our share of newsletters that use every font available on the designer’s Mac with an emphasis on Venice and San Francisco. Time has finally installed in us the concept that the availability and simplification of the tools does not make a novice into an expert. As the market matures in different areas, this lesson comes home time and time again. I could spend thousands of dollars on video equipment and software for my 660AV, but the ability to create full-screen full-motion video doesn’t mean that I or any other novice can create good full-screen, full-motion video.
Community — These two lines serve to break up the Macintosh community into the haves and the have nots, the novices and the experts, and that bothers me. Although a community must preserve a range of knowledge and expertise, there must also be some common ground, some subjects in which most any Macintosh user will evince interest. That’s where I see my role, and the role of TidBITS. I’m not an expert in any field, and the field in which I’m the most interested, the Internet, attracts me because of the wonderful people with whom I can interact, from whom I can learn, and who I can count among my friends. I want to create a common ground, a virtual meeting space in which we can all learn from one another and benefit from the process. TidBITS does this in its small way, and that’s good. We can’t solve the world’s problems, and I doubt we even understand the world’s problems, but if we can at least get to know one another and continue to exchange thoughts and ideas, the world cannot but improve.
One of the causes of this pontificating was the annual netters’ dinner at Macworld. Some 80-odd netters from all over showed up to share Chinese food and listen to our ever-enthusiastic organizer Jon "Will hack for food" Pugh. Once again, I was struck by how utterly comfortable I felt with the assembled net denizens. We may not be pretty and we may not be rich, but I think I can say that we’re one hell of a nice group of people. Thanks to you all for a wonderful evening, and here’s hoping that the net never loses its spirit.