Have you ever noticed that the people who take over from others often end up like the ones they took over from? George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, about the pigs who take over from the men who run the farm, ends with the remaining animals – the ones that haven’t been sent to the knackers or worked to death – peering in through the window of the house and finding, to their great surprise, the pigs sitting at the table drinking with the men. As they look from one to the other, they can’t tell the difference.
It’s true of other things. Apple the technology giant was once this unbelievably bright beacon of disruption to the status quo, pulling the pigtails of techno-giants so that we users could look up and laugh as the new Mac Classic II – the one that instead of giving a sourfaced MS-DOS Bad command or file name gave us a little bomb that blew up with the more gentle I’m sorry, the system has failed. It nailed the grunt-level Goliath IBM right between the eyes. It was beautiful, like writing by hand or swimming in the sea.
When I got my first Mac I thought I’d joined the illuminati. There was really only me, cool architects and people who went to work in jeans. I looked at those poor old DOS folk and felt sorry for them. But look now. Apple is a mega-company that made more money than some countries last year. They run everything from your phone to your music to your heartbeat. They’ve become, dare I say it, stodgy. Their new ideas are old ideas repackaged. A watch, and now a pencil. Next perhaps socks, then toothpicks.
It’s possible I have the bitterness of the betrayed. I wanted Apple to stay what it was forever so I could grow old feeling groovy. And perhaps it’s just the way of things. When I worked in the university sector, a few colleagues and I formed a group we called the ginger group. We were young, ambitious managers agitating for change in what we saw as a moribund layer of middle management. We had lunch and talked about membership. When I left ten years later, we were middle managers trying desperately to stop those young turks from taking our places, still talking about membership.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that we become like what we push out of the way. Much has been written in recent weeks about the many changes in political leadership we’ve had in Australia. Each new leader comes in looking just like a brand new Mac. I wonder if it’s even possible anymore for leaders to show leadership. We’ll see soon enough, I guess.
First published in Qweekend.