The recent death of Apple Co-founder Steve Jobs has caused me to reflect a little on the man and his company’s impact on us as classicists and archaeologists.
Jobs once said: “Using a computer is like riding a bicycle. It gets you to and from places with great speed and efficiency; it’s like getting wheels for the mind.” This turned into an international marketing campaign right around the introduction of the Macintosh. An early ad featured John Cherry’s academic work and highlights the ability to type in Greek and assemble materials including charts and images for publication.
After Jobs left Apple in 1985, Apple continued to support classics and academia. Apple gave several grants to the fledgling Perseus project in the form of equipment or money from 1987-1991. I vaguely remember that the office that was funding these projects quietly disappeared in the early 90s.
As an undergraduate in the early 90s I used the computer labs at UMBC which were Windows or Unix based. I typed my honor’s thesis on Thucydides in WordPerfect 4.2 for DOS, with the manual open to the four digit codes to type in for each and every Greek character. My first glimpse of a Macintosh was when our library purchased one for the Perseus CD-ROMS and the TLG hypercard stack Pandora, which came out around the same time.
When I arrived at UC as a graduate student in 1994 they had been using Macs for a decade already. The faculty and student lab machines were SEs or SE/30s. It was explained to me that the faculty had been using Macs since 1984 because it was the only computer upon which they could type Greek. Even then it wasn’t universally accepted and some of the students still printed their papers in the ‘old fashioned’ way which was to type up the paper while leaving white space for the greek, then put the pages in an IBM Selectric typewriter with a Greek typeball and type the Greek. And it was at UC, with the SuperGreek keyboard layout taped to the wall, that I learned how to touch type Greek, which was an amazing thing to be able to do.
Most of our work at Troy was unfortunately completed during the days when Apple was faltering as a company. Many of the laptops that we had purchased had some design flaws that we found irritating. The keyboards were a problem. In the models from the Powerbook 160s all the way up to the PowerBook G3 we had tremendous problems dealing with the dirt that any archaeological dig would encounter. At that time we couldn’t cover the keyboards with plastic since that is how the heat generally escaped and that would overheat the laptops. I had to replace many keyboards in those years, and the Windows laptops that some were using didn’t seem to have that problem.
After Jobs’ return to Apple, the computers got much better, especially the laptops. From the Titanium G4 to the current line of Airs and unibody MacBook Pros, the machines have been more and more pleasant to work on. I don’t think that I am alone in this opinion since I also saw greater numbers of Apple laptops at the AIA/APA annual meetings each year during this time.
But it was when the iPhone 3 came out that I knew they were onto something else. This model was introduced along with the App store, which allowed you to run non-Apple software on it. This opened up whole new possibilities. I remember sitting in my office holding it in one hand. It had a camera, GPS, and unlimited software and I said to myself “this is a perfect archaeology recording machine.” With that phone I could get rid of my hand-held GPS, my notebook, my clipboard of forms, my maps, my calculator, my camera, and much of the gear necessary for recording both surveys and excavations. It appealed to me as the perfect combination of Jobs’ simplicity and Alton Brown’s edict that you shouldn’t own any kitchen gadget that doesn’t have more than one use. But then I hadn’t predicted the iPad.
This blog wasn’t created to just show how to use iPads in archaeology, (and not necessarily tablets either) but that device has become important to the workflow of several teams. I know of one project in Italy using Android devices, but I haven’t heard about their results. If others have any leads on the use of Android in the field, I would like to know that as well. But I would like to mention here that the class of device that we are using for data recording didn’t exist a few years ago. And they exist now because of Steve Jobs. Wheels for the mind indeed.