TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Priesthood
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:1
Column Tag:Inside Info

It Wasn’t Supposed To Be Like This

The people lost. The priesthood won.

By Chris Espinosa, Apple Computer, MacTech Magazine Regular Contributor

My introduction to computers was back in the days of timesharing, when the closest I got to an actual computer was a Teletype® terminal at the other end of a 110-baud modem from an HP 2000-series minicomputer running BASIC. When I saw my first Altair, IMSAI, and Apple I computers, and saw that I could have a whole computer to myself, it seemed like the best possible way to do computing: take away the wires, connections, logins, system builds, IPLs, and layers of software isolating me from the thing that did the computing.

One of the most important books I read in those days was called Computer Lib, written by the hypertext visionary Ted Nelson. The topic (if a book composed of clippings, hand drawings, old photos, illustrations copied from Wizard of Oz books, and other flotsam could have a topic) was that computing was a democratic force; that smaller, cheaper computers could have an effect on technological society like the Colt .45 had on the society of the West; and that it was possible - and necessary - for non-technologists to understand computers now.

The combination of Nelson’s subversive ideas and the power of the personal computer were a volatile combination. A lot of people in the early days of personal computing had strong anti-government, libertarian, individualist ethics. The early hacker movement was motivated by the same sentiments. And of course, a lot of these people were entrepreneurs too. Some were corporate refugees, some classic go-getter small businessmen, and others (like Steve Wozniak) just people with good ideas told by others that they should build a few of their boxes and sell them.

If there was an enemy working against the democratic force, it was The Computer Priesthood. This ringing phrase from Computer Lib encompassed all the bureaucrats, technocrats, stuffed shirts, corporate types, and gatekeepers who Kept People Away From Computers. Nelson printed urban folk legends about high schoolers tweaking them. Crackers broke into their systems and annoyed them. And the entrepreneurs of the personal computer movement built an industry with the specific purpose to take the power away from them and distribute it to the people.

Well, the people lost. The priesthood won.

They won in that the personal computer industry is controlled by and dominated by the influence of people who value complexity. The culture of problem-solvers, who revel in complexity that makes them needed, won out over the culture of simplifiers, who try to eliminate complexity and move on to other things.

The problem-solvers were institutionalized in the mainframe and minicomputer installations, and originally rejected personal computers because they were “toys.” The damning trait of toys is not that they’re not useful, but that toys don’t require system administrators, and help desks, and technical support, and training, and repair, and reviews, and seminars, and the rest of the multi-billion-dollar decision making infrastructure that was already in place in the mainframe and mini markets. Because Altairs, IMSAIs, and Apple IIs didn’t need any of these, they were not worth paying attention to.

Then came DOS, VisiCalc, and Novell. When individual personal computers streamed into business, education, and government in enough quantities to really be useful, the infrastructure latched onto the place where it found it could add the most value. And that was the incomprehensibility of the operating system to the mere mortal. Ordinary people could understand spreadsheets and word processors, and could make a purchase decision, learn to use one, and get work done. But OSs, system configuration, IRQs, DIP switches, CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files got beyond the ken of the ordinary computer user. Users didn’t need the OS or understand why it was there - but they were convinced that they needed someone to manage it for them, and the priesthood could live.

If you’re in the Silicon Valley you have a chance to see the priesthood up close. It’s bigger now than it ever was in the ‘70s, and it proudly coexists with the techno-laity. Metropolitan daily newspapers carry ads for IDE drives, math co-processors, and local bus adapters as if they were potatoes or toilet paper. Weekly business newspapers carry articles that give step-by-step OS tuning instructions.

This is madness! There are a lot of other contemporary, high-tech systems that have popped up in the last 50 years without this happening. Do you need to have your cellular phone reconfigured every time you want to talk to a new person? Have you seen any ads in your daily paper touting the best selection of distributor rotors, fuel pumps, and timing belts? Do you know of companies who have a 30-person help desk to help employees use the copiers and elevators?

The real tragedy of all this is that all this serves to reinforce, not defeat, the priesthood. Because we need them to help us make our current systems work, we entrust them to make decisions about the next generation of systems - and it is extremely unlikely that they will choose simple, useful, uncomplicated systems that will make them powerless and unnecessary. So they drive manufacturers to continue to develop systems in the vernacular of the priesthood. This is not out of greed or guile - it’s all they know.

Unfortunately, this spills over into areas even the priesthood doesn’t control. The current pathetic state of home computers is due to design decisions made on the business side of the house. In reality, Apple II ProDOS or the Amiga’s OS were both much more appropriate operating systems for the home than Mac or Windows. But Apple, Microsoft, Compaq, and IBM had to serve the emerging home market with a product derived from the business line - and the pundits, columnists, and IS managers dictated that those systems have support for features that home users never use. So Packard Bell bundles Windows for Workgroups with every home computer, and Apple ships a Wide Carriage LaserWriter driver on every Performa.

I’m afraid that the current generation of personal computers, and all their spawn, are hopelessly corrupted by the needs of the priesthood to perpetuate complexity. I had hope for the PDA generation, but from what I have seen of Magic Cap and Newton, they’re both ripe for layers of Corporate Purchase Requirements. The only platforms I see that are so far untouched by the pundits and IS managers are Sega and Nintendo - and I wish them well.

 
AAPL
$101.66
Apple Inc.
+0.23
MSFT
$46.70
Microsoft Corpora
-0.31
GOOG
$575.62
Google Inc.
-5.73

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Screenshot Path 1.2.1 - Change the defau...
Screenshot Path lets you change the folder where OS X saves screenshots. Screenshots are saved by default to the user’s desktop. This is handy for the occasional screenshot but those looking to take... Read more
Fantastical 1.3.16 - Create calendar eve...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event details... Read more
GIMP 2.8.14 - Powerful, free image editi...
GIMP is a multi-platform photo manipulation tool. GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP is suitable for a variety of image manipulation tasks, including photo retouching,... Read more
HoudahSpot 3.9.3 - Advanced front-end fo...
HoudahSpot is an advanced file search tool built upon MacOS X Spotlight. Spotlight unleashed Create detailed queries to locate the exact file you need Narrow down searches. Zero in on files Save... Read more
djay 4.2.3 - Transform your Mac into a f...
djay transforms your Mac into a full-fledged DJ system, allowing you to mix your iTunes music library on a hyper-realistic turntable interface. Perform live, record mixes on-the-go, or enable... Read more
iDefrag 2.2.8 - Disk defragmentation and...
iDefrag helps defragment and optimize your disk for improved performance. Features include: Supports HFS and HFS+ (Mac OS Extended). Supports case sensitive and journaled filesystems. Supports... Read more
Bookends 12.2.3 - Reference management a...
Bookends is a full-featured bibliography/reference and information-management system for students and professionals. Access the power of Bookends directly from Mellel, Nisus Writer Pro, or MS Word (... Read more
Copy 1.47.0410 - Cloud storage and file...
Note: You must first sign up to use Copy (get a 5GB sign-up bonus through our 'Download' link above). Copy lets you sync, protect, and share. Everywhere. Want to bring some files home? No problem!... Read more
Stacks 2.6.3 - New way to create pages i...
Stacks is a new way to create pages in RapidWeaver: A plugin designed to combine drag-and-drop simplicity with the power of fluid layout. Features: Fluid Layout: Stacks lets you build pages that... Read more
RestoreMeNot 2.0 - Disable window restor...
RestoreMeNot provides a simple way to disable the window restoration for individual applications so that you can fine-tune this behavior to suit your needs. Please note that RestoreMeNot is designed... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

This Week at 148Apps: September 8-12, 20...
Expert App Reviewers   So little time and so very many apps. What’s a poor iOS devotee to do? Fortunately, 148Apps is here to give you the rundown on the latest and greatest releases. And we even have a tremendous back catalog of reviews; just check... | Read more »
Rejoice, Kittens! Kitty Powers’ Matchmak...
Rejoice, Kittens! | Read more »
Upcoming Digital Board Game SettleForge...
Upcoming Digital Board Game SettleForge is Headed to iOS Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 12th, 2014 [ permalink ] SettleForge is a single-player board game where players take on the role of the king as they try to | Read more »
Air Supply SOS Set to Bring Retro Sheep...
Air Supply SOS Set to Bring Retro Sheep Rescuing to iOS Soon Posted by Ellis Spice on September 12th, 2014 [ permalink ] Quantum Sheep has announced that the latest entry in the | Read more »
Star Wars: Commander Reveals Who is Winn...
Star Wars: Commander Reveals Who is Winning the Galactic Civil War Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 12th, 2014 [ permalink ] Disney Interactive has released a new infographic detailing the stat | Read more »
The New MOGA REBEL iOS Controller is Set...
The New MOGA REBEL iOS Controller is Set to Be Released on September 17 Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 12th, 2014 [ permalink ] MO | Read more »
Scuba Dupa Review
Scuba Dupa Review By Rob Thomas on September 12th, 2014 Our Rating: :: BUBBLE TROUBLEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Scuba Dupa is cute and simple fun, but you’re going to have to part with a bit too much sunken... | Read more »
Get Ready for the iPhone 6 – Amazon Trad...
Get Ready for the iPhone 6 – Amazon Trade-in Program Locks in Used Gadget Prices Until October 10 Posted by Ellis Spice on September 12th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Kings of the Realm Review
Kings of the Realm Review By Jennifer Allen on September 12th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STANDARD BASE BUILDINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Kings of the Realm offers some handy tweaks, but it’s still the familiar format... | Read more »
Five Nights at Freddy's (Games)
Five Nights at Freddy's 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: NOTE: It's recommended to have at least 512 megs of ram on your device, low-memory devices may crash during gameplay.... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

More To Making A Larger iPad Than Expanded Sc...
CNET’s Ross Rubin has posted a thoughtful analysis of prospects for a larger display iPad Pro, noting that Microsoft and Samsung currently have the large-display touchscreen tablet category to... Read more
SwiftKey Keyboard Finally Coming To iPhone An...
At the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco, Swiftkey unveiled the first details about SwiftKey Keyboard for iPhone, iPad & iPod touch. SwiftKey’s philosophy is that you should be able to... Read more
Save $75 on the 16GB iPad mini with Retina Di...
Best Buy has the 16GB iPad mini with Retina Display on sale for $324.99 on their online store for a limited time. Their price is $75 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this mini.... Read more
21-inch 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $979, $120 of...
B&H Photo has the new 21″ 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $979.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 21-inch 1.4GHz iMa...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 21″ 1.4GHz iMacs for $929 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is $170 off the cost of new models,... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sa...
Adorama has the 13″ 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1379 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
Macally iPhone 6 Cases
Macally has introduced a Line of Snap-On Shell Cases, Frame Bumper Cases and a Rugged Protective Case for iPhone 6 with 4.7inch Screen, such as the SNAP case in a variety of brilliant metallic... Read more
Belkin Launches New Accessories iPhone 6 and...
Belkin has unveiled a new collection of products for iPhone 6 and iPhone Plus. Belkin’s new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus accessories include athletic-inspired armbands, classic phone cases and advanced... Read more
Skinit Debuts Customizable Apple iPhone 6 Cas...
Skinit, pioneer creators of protective personalized solutions for consumer electronic devices, has introduced its new collection of customizable Skinit cases and skins for the new Apple iPhone 6.... Read more
Apple refurbished MacBook Pros available for...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available starting at $929. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (4GB RAM/... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.