When Apple unveiled their first Macintosh computer 30 years ago, they also released a notorious commercial that depicted IBM as “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the book, the year 1984 is a dystopian civilization where an omnipresent government punishes individualism and independent thinking. In the commercial, civilians march in unison as Big Brother (IBM) broadcasts a speech on telescreens where they are declaring they “shall prevail” in creating a pure ideology. But as soon as the speech is over, a runner (Apple) hurls a brass-headed hammer at the talking screen, smashing it into a million pieces. Subtlety was not Apple’s strong suit.
“Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”
– Big Brother in Apple’s “1984” commercial
According to the 1984 United States Census, only 8.2% of households reported they had a computer while 21.1% declared they used a computer in some direct way. These numbers pale in comparison to today’s figures, but 1984 is considered to be the beginning of the “computer revolution.” Computers in 1984 were so popular that TIME magazine even gave its coveted “Man of the Year” award to the computer instead of a man. For the first time in our lives, computers were available at work, school and in our home – and most of them were manufactured by IBM.
The year prior to the “1984” commercial, Steve Jobs acknowledged IBM’s dominance in his Apple keynote address.
“It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”
–Steve Jobs in his 1983 Apple keynote address
For 30 years, consumers have been asked to choose between a Mac and a PC. Users of each respective type argue endlessly as to why their machine is better than the other and neither can agree that both are good at what they do. If you use a Mac, you’re perceived to be a “fan boy” who simply wants to spend a lot of money to look cool. If you use a PC, you’re considered an uptight fuddy-duddy who only thinks they know better. There is no winning when it comes to which side you choose because the other side will always have an opinion about you. But this tireless debate could be coming to an end soon.
Yesterday, Apple and IBM announced a joint venture to develop more than 100 business software programs for the iOS operating system. While these applications won’t be available on Mac’s or PC’s, the merger is expected to strengthen both companies’ positions in the corporate world. The retail, health care, transportation, banking, insurance and telecommunications industries could soon be dominated by both Apple and IBM.
This alliance is significant because computing has been migrating toward a mobile world in recent years. Smartphones are used for shopping, making doctor’s appointments, hailing a cab, paying bills, checking bank statements and keeping in touch with everyone you know through emails, text messaging and – very rarely – phone calls. Today, 22% of the global population owns a smartphone while 20% own a computer. The “computer revolution” is no more; we are now in the “mobile age”.
Apple and IBM putting aside their differences to create a unified method of computing is eerily similar to the first step of the “Information Purification Directives”. And because more people own mobile devices than computers, it’s not far-fetched to predict our mobile devices will eventually replace desktop computers for everything we do. “1984” could soon be a reality, but is freedom of choice something mankind is willing to sacrifice for the sake of convenience? Maybe we should rename the book 2014.
“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”
–George Orwell in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”
Do you think the Apple/IBM partnership ends the Mac vs. PC debate? Or does this signal the beginning of a new era of unification like “1984?”