After my friends and I graduated from high school in July 2007, we decided to take a vacation to Spain and go see our favorite bands in Benicàssim, at an annual music festival. That was the year when Arctic Monkeys were already pretty popular thanks to 2006’s record-smashing debut album and Favourite Worst Nightmare (but they were still shy on stage), and just a month after the iPhone went on sale in the United States.
Until that point, my experience with Apple’s history and products was zero. I was a Windows PC user, I owned a terrible (but for the sake of nostalgia, epic) Nokia phone, and I listened to music with an also terrible (nostaglia doesn’t apply here) portable Acer MP3 player. I played a lot of videogames, I was in a band, and I had no idea about what to do with my life. Therefore, going to Spain for a week of concerts and just the bare minimum amount of sleep seemed a good plan.
A few days into our stay in Benicàssim, we took a walk by the beach and ended up in a small park where other people were relaxing, drinking beers, and having a good time in general. We sat down, and one of my friends pulled out a white MP3 player with an Apple logo. I knew what Apple was – I knew that “the Macintosh was better than Windows but it was expensive and it didn’t have all the programs” – but I wasn’t familiar with the products. It was the day when Albert Hammond Jr. would play on stage – the same performance in which the power went out, as documented by YouTube for posterity. I wasn’t familiar with Albert Hammond Jr. much either (I just liked The Strokes, and that was it), so I asked my friend (who was a fan of Hammond) to hand me his MP3 player so I could learn the songs.
I was immediately hooked. The clearest memory I have of that day is scroling through songs and adjusting the volume with the iPod’s clickwheel – it just felt so natural, fun, and, once I tried it, obvious, that I couldn’t believe I, on the other hand, was stuck using a heavy piece of junk. I had experienced a similar interface epiphany three years earlier, when I first controlled Mario with a stylus in Super Mario 64 for the original Nintendo DS. I used that iPod for hours, and I was amazed by how a simple mechanism – a touch-based wheel – could make portable music different on a human level.
When we went back to Italy, I knew I wanted an iPod. I can’t remember where I bought it, but a few days after landing in Rome I got a white iPod Classic that I still have somewhere in my drawer. I put the Acer MP3 away, downloaded iTunes for Windows, and I was off to the races. I was an iPod user.
I loved my iPod. After coming back to Italy, for some reason I decided that I really wanted to study Philosophy in Rome, and I convinced my parents to pay for a bedroom in an apartment that I would share with the aforementioned high school friends. In hindsight, that was an awful idea and I admire my parents for allowing me to “fail hard” on my own and understand my poor post-high school decision-making skills, but there’s another good takeaway from that brief experience: listening to music with the iPod on the train from Viterbo to Rome. I consumed my iPod: its battery never ran out during the day, it was light, could easily fit in my pocket, and hearing that clicky sound when scrolling songs with the clickwheel was just too rewarding to waste time on the train without music.
Thinking about that period of my life today, I can associate songs and albums with parts of Rome that I was just getting to know as a 19 year-old kid who was somewhat reluctant to continue his studies and too arrogant to listen to his parents. That iPod became an everyday companion: it was with me when I insisted that I wanted to move to Rome, and it was with me three months later, when I realized that, as my father predicted, things weren’t working out. Disappointed, I left Rome and moved back in with my parents.
A year later, the iPod was still with me and I knew that I was going to get fired soon. In January 2008, I managed to find a job at an “eBay store” – one of those shops where you could bring things you wanted to sell on eBay because you didn’t have time to create an auction yourself or because you didn’t know how to use a computer. It was a fun job and it paid well, and I was good at it. Probably too good for the management’s tastes. I was dealing with computers all day, and I was so unhappy with Windows that I had moved to Linux as my primary operating system.
The iPod had, unsurprisingly, got me interested in Apple: I was browsing Mac forums to understand what OS X was all about and what Apple, as a company, wanted for its customers; I had bought a first-gen iPod touch to have a portable modern Internet machine without having to buy an iPhone; I was so curious about OS X, I installed things like RocketDock on Linux to make it look more like a Mac. The halo effect was in full force and I couldn’t stop it: I wanted a Mac and I wanted it badly.
In October 2008, I had saved a decent amount of cash to buy myself a nice gift: a late-2008, 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro. The machine was everything I was hoping for and even more: it was powerful, it was light (for 2008 standards), and the operating system felt just right. The trackpad was insane. The way applications moved on screen and the elegance of the interface and the subtle details – it’s not that I wasn’t disappointed; I was blown away.
Two months later, I got fired, and I thank my old boss every day because he changed my life. There have been a few bumps in the road, but I’ve never liked perfectly straight roads without surprises. Things have worked out pretty well so far.
In 2014, the world is quite different. For one, Arctic Monkeys aren’t shy on stage anymore and I still have a job that I love. I didn’t know where I’d end up with my life, and I was fortunate enough to be able to take a chance and try to make a living out of what I love – writing about technology and how I use it. Apple is different today, and I’ve changed too: right now, I’m typing this article on my iPad, with an app that nobody would have imagined five years ago, and my MacBook Air’s lid is closed. Next to me, there’s an iPhone 5s and a Nintendo 3DS – the love for games hasn’t burned out.
As the world is wishing a happy 30th birthday to the Mac, I think about my first iPod and I realize just how important Apple’s halo effect has been for my generation. Perhaps I was going to buy a Mac anyway eventually because I was too fed up with Windows, but the iPod made me curious, excited, and, more importantly, a loyal and satisfied customer. The Mac made me eager to learn more about Macs apps and the people who were making them, so I decided to write about it and somehow I had a job again and I’ve met so many great people along the way, every doubt and criticism was worth it. This still applies today.
I don’t have an in-depth retrospective about the Mac, and I still consider myself “new” to Apple and tech geekery in general. I will never be able to say “I was there for the first Macintosh” and I’ll never fully grasp the massive change that 2007 was for Apple fans because I wasn’t interested back then.
My MacBook Pro stayed with me three years until I replaced it with a much lighter and more powerful 13-inch MacBook Air. My first Mac allowed me to start writing and use the operating system I wanted. Today, my MacBook Air may not my primary computer anymore, but it’s still essential for some tasks that I can’t do on my iPad. In my experience with Apple products, I’ve always preferred portability: the music player, the phone, the computer, and the tablet. I’ve learned that life is too unpredictable to depend on a computer that’s stuck on a desk.
But most of all, I’ve learned my lesson: take a walk with your friends and be curious. It all started with an Albert Hammond song and an iPod.