Oct 19, 2011

My first Mac

Tim Harford has a very interesting piece on Apple, innovation, and Steve Jobs, which motivated me write down the story of my first Mac:

I still remember the hot weather, the sticky sweat, and the sense of danger, when I was biking the streets of Accra on my way to buy my first Mac. Yes, I bought it in West Africa. There was something nerdy, artsy, unorthodox, and cool about it. It was a $ 1,400 toy, a good chunk of my semester salary.

Before entering the store I left the bike with a street vendor, begging him to take care of it, it was my only means of transportation in the city. I bought the white mac and a red backpack. Riding the bike with the Mac in the back was epic. The musty and hot air of the Golf of Guinea, and the heavy traffic of Accra make bike riding a pretty out-of-place, but not less exciting, event.

It was shocking however to see the next day that there was an awful, perfectly vertical line, crossing the screen of the Mac, and it stayed there no matter what. Fortunately people at the store changed the screen in only half an hour, leaving it neat. And this was Ghana where things were not supposed to be done that fast. But it was an Apple store and that made all the difference.

Finding the Mac in Accra was not that easy though, especially if you wanted it immediately, like I did. Previously, I had crossed the city by tro-tro looking for one of the Apple stores listed in the phone book. The place was far away, in the suburbs of the city, close to a train line. The store was on a dusty road. The building was not finished, and the air was very heavy. There seemed to be dust on the tables. But there was something really cool about the place. Everybody had a Macdesktop. The Macs were of a light blue color, almost transparent. A heavy mean, the manager, told me that they only had desktops and the latest, and more expensive, Macbook. I did not buy it. On my way home I kept thinking about this technology compound Mac-only place in the Golf of Guinea.

Why some of us wanted the apple products so badly. The reliability, effectiveness, etc, are well talked about. But Steve Jobs was also a master of marketing, the creator of a product that sells itself. He appealed to people’s desire to be different. His secret of marketing focused specifically on creating a product that didn’t need to be advertised. And this was probably the key to his success. Very few people in the world have Jobs' meticulousness. He said:
When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it.
His most important legacy still is what we do not see.

Steve Jobs was a man who had his 10,000 hours, using Malcom Gladwell lingo. When inspiration came, he had done his homework. Think for example on his calligraphic training, the genesis of the Mac aesthetics. His timing in history was perfect, only matched by Bill Gates, and few fortunate others. The Mac was what the economic historian Joel Mokyr calls a macro-invention, meaning those innovations that have very few or no precedent. The Mac as well as the personal computer were at the core of the Solow residual, as theorists of economic growth call new creations that drive long term rates of income per capita. Indeed the computer constitutes the nucleus the information revolution.

Back to Accra. My new Mac had to pass one if its most important test. It happened when I was riding the bike in the Labone neighborhood. The breeze from the sea was fresh, the afternoon sunlight on the walls was orange, and the reggae music was smooth. There were some beautiful Ghanaian ladies by the road watching the obruni ride with gusto. Almost nothing could go wrong. But something did. When I realized I was with my face right on the asphalt. There was a problem with the chain of the bike . . . it was embarrassing, but the Mac was OK.

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