Grown Up Computing

Marco Arment:

Grown-up computing is, put simply, the way I use computers and my attitude toward them now that I’m out of college and settling into the 9-to-5 world. It differs greatly from “young computing”.

[ . . . ]

The last thing I want to do is figure out why some program isn’t working or reinstall my operating system. I see these as zero-gain activities: generally, I learn nothing new, I don’t enjoy myself, I’m not being entertained or enriched, and my effort only results in maintaining the status quo.

I’d rather get a computer that didn’t require any maintenance and simply allowed me to do productive work. I’d like to have something to show for all of my clicking and typing instead of simply making information balloons go away. I’d rather write an article for this site than type my serial number again. I’d rather search the internet for interesting or entertaining information to read instead of looking for the solution to an obscure problem for which I only have a useless generic error message. I just want things to work.

I like Marco’s sentiment here, and think it explains my own thoughts as of late.

I’ve long been a computer tinkerer. Years ago I was fascinated with computer hardware and learning about how things worked. I’ve torn down several computers fixing issues or upgrading devices, and built my own desktop computer in the year before coming to graduate school.

Software came next. I cannot tell you how many nights my best friend and I had Windows Parties – night long, highly caffeinated, and sugar induced Windows installing/reinstalling sessions (often as much for the fun of it as well as fixing some software or hardware issue). Programming was only periphery to my interests – I took a couple of programming classes in high school but largely left the world of code (except for HTML and CSS) once I entered college. During the first year of my Masters program, I left Windows XP, completely frustrated with an operating system I had spent years fighting. In its place stepped Ubuntu Linux – and endless amounts of tweaking the UI, performance, and any other manner customization I could add on to the system.

I found my time with Linux valuable. I learned a lot about unix, filesystems, navigating through the terminal. And then the desktop died.

So, I was left with a decision. I could get a cheap Windows machine, format it, and install a flavor of Linux. Or I could join the world of Apple. I hadn’t used an Apple computer since high school, aside from a couple of times while on UNL campus. I’d always been impressed with Apple products. Although I’m occasionally nervous about the closed system Apple promotes, one thing that rings true (at least in my, and many other, experiences) is it just works. I was done figuring out why Windows and Linux wasn’t working. I’ll sometimes turn to Linux for some development or programming by firing up a virtual box, but by and large Apple offered everything I needed in a computer (and especially won me over because it was built on unix, a system I had spent a lot of time learning about and had fallen in love with).

Suddenly the things I had spend all the time worrying about on Windows, or fixing in Linux, no longer existed. As a power user of computers, I still had enough control over the system to tweak things as I needed – but, I wasn’t intensely interested in tweaking much anyways. And, for me, the Mac experience is as much about the OS as the software. Software designed for the Mac – TextMate, DevonThink, Transmit, Reeder, iTunes, and several of the other apps I use on a daily basis. Sure, there are equivalents on Linux, but nothing compares to the Mac software. And, frankly, the Mac OS has a better interface and better quality (and designed) third party software.

The issue has come up again recently for me. I picked up an Android phone in January and, almost a month after purchasing it, have faced nothing but near daily problems with it – locking up, restarting, unable to answer phone calls. I can hardly use the thing as a phone, let alone as a smartphone. I’m longing for an iPhone, a device that just works. I don’t want to spend my evenings trying to figure out what isn’t working on my phone and why, or researching that an app doesn’t contain malware or something else insecure.

Perhaps I’ll lose my hacker cred by writing this piece (and I’ll admit a good share of conflict within my own thinking considering my dedication to open source software and skepticism about brand loyalty). And I’ll probably be called a MacHead or whatever else. Go ahead. I think it’s great that Android is on the market. I love competition, and it will only serve to benefit the consumer. But for now, Apple offers everything I require.

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Steve Jobs

30 June 2011 · @jaheppler