The loneliness of the wrong-system chooser

4 min read

First it was Betamax. Our household didn’t choose it, but if it had been up to me, we would have. I was ten years old. My dad had just announced we’d be getting a VHS deck, and I remember looking up at him – not many memories of that, we were already close to the same height – and arguing that all sorts of people said that Beta had better picture quality and was more durable. I felt confused and powerless when he wouldn’t listen. Within months the available Beta rentals at Five Star started to thin; within a year they were gone. I felt kind of at peace with that, probably because I had no trouble renting anything.

Then it was the Mac. In 1986 you either had a PC and could play all the games, or had an Amiga and could play mysteriously awesome games no one’d heard of, or you had some other shit and were a loser who hung out at friends’ houses a lot. Don’t get me wrong, we had great stuff at home – we had HyperCard – but we didn’t have status. The arguments didn’t happen to us so much, because there “wasn’t” an Internet yet, but on one notable occasion a friend and I had finagled an invite to the home of a girl I had a crush on, so we could set up her stereo; some other kid who was there started talking smack about Macs for no real reason, and somehow I got sucked into fighting over it feebly with him while my undistracted friend accomplished all the useful, girl-impressing tasks. Yes, I learned to program, sort of, with HyperCard; yes, Defender of the Crown had a certain majesty in black and white when it (finally) showed up. Yes, the Mac II made things a lot better. Still, none of us Mac users of a certain age ever forgot – our superiority was not a real thing. We cooked it up ourselves; when we went out in the world, it had no currency.

Then it was the Sega Master System. I hope I don’t even need to say more. (Space Harrier, though: yeah. And Great Volleyball, out of which my brother and I wrung a truly odd amount of fun.)

Now it’s the T-Mobile G1. All I see is iPhone app announcements and developer opportunities, in the music blogs, the game blogs, the web-dev blogs. The Android platform gets some dap too – it’s evident that this time I have at least picked Sega, not 3DO – but that doesn’t help me when I have to fight with the G1’s camera again, or stumble through the Market looking for something, anything that doesn’t suck ass (illiterate app comments scrawled on the listings like they’re bad YouTube videos), or watch performance slow and slow as I get further from my last hard phone reset. Yes, it’s not that much longer until the apps will get better, but let’s be honest: they’ll never catch up. I abandoned all my noble open-source principles as soon as they failed to reward me. I want an iPhone so bad.

Last month I was at the mall finishing holiday shopping and saw that my shiny new phone was out of power again – I must have left GPS on by accident, damn my eyes – so I stopped into a T-Mobile store to borrow a cup of the ol’ juice. They kindly offered me a power adapter by the G1 display, and I soon found myself in conversation with a prospective buyer, talking the phone up. The social pressure of being in a T-Mobile retail store that was doing me a favor is only a partial explanation. I suddenly recovered all my moral dudgeon against the locked-down, anti-user iPhone and its monopolistic store full of 99-cent farting applications. I told this guy about the $400 unlocked dev version of the phone when the sales guy’s back was turned. I talked about the coming paid apps. I talked up all the promise that I wanted so much to believe in again.

In summary: OMG I HAVE SUCH TERRIBLE PROBLEMS (soon we will all be checking Twitter from the fucking bread line)