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One of the great things about roaming the expo at Macworld is stumbling upon a product you never thought about. Even better is sharing it with people who don't care, and may even get mad at you for doing so. -- Charles Jade, ArsTechnica

Dude, got the DOS manual?

Maybe. What's it called?

Last week was Macworld. I used to go. By that I mean I went once, a few years ago, and for several years afterward I made an increasingly halfhearted effort to go again. When I went the one time, I was waiting to be laid off from a company that was laying everyone off, and I took the afternoon and went and tried to think about anything besides the internet. That was 2002. OS X was still very new. Some people were still doing things in Carbon instead of Cocoa. The internet was huge, but the idea of Web 2.0 was nowhere to be found. Some of us were defensive in our optimisim about the Mac, shoving MS Office for OS X demo CD-ROMs at the skeptical.

I came home with a million demo CDs I'd never install, a bunch of paper collected with the idea that I'd apply for jobs at these places, and with new hope that there was life after the dot com mirage.

Things were different then, but they'd been different before then too. That DOS manual came with my Apple IIe, bundled in a shinkwrapped–wait for it–"bundle", with some of the other documentation. In 1983, computers didn't have operating systems, not even by analogy. DOS saved things to disks, and loaded things from disks, and told you what was on disks, and other low-level things.

The fact is, there was no lower level, and any higher level was a function (or a lack) of the computer program you were running, such that there really wasn't any higher level either. Looking through that book, it's breathtaking how little infrastructure, protocol, or standardization existed around something that I could nevertheless convince my parents and my grandmother to buy for me in elementary school.

Today, predictably, things are very different from ever before. Both the adjectives "high-level" and "low-level" are utterly relative terms now, and most correctly relative to a "level" that would have seemed impossibly "high" when that DOS manual was current. This year's Mac-less Macworld is a sign of it, in a sense. We seem to be deciding–as people who are interested in these things, if nothing else–that there is nowhere to go with the actual computer anymore. Its as if there is a transparency horizon and the personal computer has disappeared over it, towed by acronymns and numbers and codenames like HD-DVD, SOAP, AJAX, 802.11, and Bluetooth. Even when allowed to encompass the operating system and not just the hardware itself, next year's personal computer is destined to only be as newsworthy as next year's car. It is all the infrastructure, the acronymns and the rest, will allow.

No, I didn't go to Macworld this year. I watched it on TV. By TV, of course, I mean the Internet, where columnists like Charles Jade and many much less entertaining than he "reported from the floor." This week will no doubt see many trip-report blog entries and website articles at or linked to from places like ArsTechnica, Slashdot, and Digg. Some of these will be product reviews, where the reviewer will not only tell you whether he thought the iPhone sucks, he will also tell you whether you will think the iPhone sucks, and what that must, simply must, mean for Apple Inc.

As such, these articles aren't product reviews at all, but reviews of Apple's current marketing strategy, and some of that shift comes mostly from the need to fill column inches. The iPhone is, in the end, a phone, touch screens being nothing new. The AppleTV is an iPod without a screen, and including some convienient cable connections for your TV and stereo system. The lack of novelty will not stop the presses though. They'll write about the way it was presented, how correct yesterdays rumors were in light of today's facts, and what the implications of those facts are for tomorrow's rumors. Now more than ever, it is news about news, not news about technology.

It is why people can get so angry, and make comments, a web article being nothing without it's string of "discussion". (I'm auditioning for the part of Exception To The Rule, it's true.) Most of the new tech journalism is subjective, future-tense predictions about the impact of the new thing, not the new thing itself. And it is important that people get angry and post comments, otherwise readership can't be measured, ads can't be sold.

That, of course, is fine. There's nothing actually wrong with any of this. I don't repair my own car either, why should I care how I might do more with my Mac than participate in "online communities"? Of course, the fact that there is nothing wrong with any of this doesn't mean that there isn't an answer to that question. I just think the online tech press should stop pretending to answer it, or at least realize that's all they're doing.

It's why I keep that manual around. Time has passed, and the way that book is an example of how explaining how to use a thing was inseperable from explaining how that thing worked says a lot about where we are now.

Thanks for the mail about last week's article. I think the main thing that seems gratuitous about what's going on down Doyle Road is the fact that they changed the name to EDS. There's little enough lasting in the suburbs without discarding the names of things like Samuel Curtis Rogers Middle School, even if they have to drop the "Middle School" part in favor of "Discovery Enrichment Youth Center" or whatever the initials of the decade are. As it happens, Rogers was probably worth naming a Moreland district school after:

Rogers was highly regarded in the education community. He was founder of the first rural public school district in California in 1852. Later, the Moreland School District (the district he founded) named a school after Rogers. After arriving in Arizona around 1866, and building and teaching in the schoolhouse in Prescott, he "persuasively wrote about the problems he faced and made recommendations which were incorporated into the Ochoa-Safford school law of 1871," the legislation which officially created the Arizona Public School System.

Most importantly, those buildings simply are "Rogers" for those of us who grew up around the corner from them. It seems a shame and needless that they can't still be.

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