I was sitting around thinking “half-in/half-out of the iCloud ecosystem is a drag – if only I could use Messages from a Linux machine.” BlueBubbles is an answer. It sets up a server on your Mac and a proxy over your choice of services.
The only tips I can offer are:
- Do the Google Firebase setup manually … the automated workflow didn’t work, and it’s all of two minutes of clicking
- Just set up a free account with ngrok and get an API token, the Cloudflare thing didn’t seem to work
Other than that, I’m sitting here with my 11" Pop!_OS MacBook looking at a very Messages-like app with all my texts in it. Clients available for MS and Android people, too.
In a spirit of “sure, why not” I did a live disk run of ChromeOS Flex on this ThinkPad 13. It’s just ChromeOS minus the Google Play store, so you get no Android apps. Everything else is the same, as near as I can remember my last run-in with a Chromebook. Well, something isn’t quite the same, because pulling the power cord out to see what the projected battery life might be caused a kernel panic, so I’m back on the Pop!_OS install to type this up.
I can kind of see the charm. The machine ran cooler, everything was snappy because it’s all just web pages, and I got to see what 1Password is like as just a browser extension and without the underlying app running on the machine. When I think about what I could get for my money for a new Chromebook and compare it to the build quality of a refurbed ThinkPad, it’s a pretty good deal.
It would have made a good option for Ben when he was in middle and high school, because his two Chromebooks fell apart well before Google’s predicted landfill date and I think this thing or similar would have held up better for a third to a half of the cost and the knowledge that at least the damn things had a second life. I felt guilty lugging his busted up Chromebooks to Freegeek.
I get irritated with myself remembering that I thought those things were a good idea, and the recent news that Google has generously pushed back their arbitrary planned obsolescence date is even more irritating.
I made an 8-year-old i7 Mac Mini my Linux desktop. Linux Mint/Cinnamon felt a little laggy driving my display, but MATE is great. No latency once I tweaked a few things. Mint’s backup tool made setup more of a speedrun: Grab the package list from the 11" Air, copy over, apply for all my desktop and command line stuff.
I wasn’t sure where Linux font handling was at thanks to running it on those old pre-FHD laptops, but having it up and running on a nice display things look pretty good, and there’s a lot of flexibility Apple won’t give you to dial things in. I like writing on it and just sort of poking around on it during the day because it is a calmer environment than my Mac.
I was hoping darktable would be a little better on a decent display, 16GB of RAM and a good SSD, but it’s not really usable out of the box — far too slow — and I haven’t dug into performance tuning. It runs better on my i5 ThinkPad – maybe because of the display resolution? – and I think Lightroom’s smart previews and the technology underneath that does a lot for performance.
So, mildly bummed about that part. Curious to hear from any actual darktable users with raw workflows on decent displays.
… and that whole situation is engaging a part of my brain that’s sort of restless over this whole thing. As I’ve been messing around with Linux on these old machines over the past few weeks I’ve managed to address just about every little workflow thing I’ve wondered about. I’ve always favored tools that offered a back door out of macOS land so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I could go Linux if I felt like it. My photography workflow, though, is the last but most important thing, and I am not sure if I could bring that over and probably won’t know without running darktable on something more modern than any of these old machines.
Finally got the fingerprint reader working on this old ThinkPad with Pop!_OS. Huzzah! Tragically, something about the interplay of the system’s reader lib, 1Password for Linux & sites that use passkeys (e.g. Google) mean it doesn’t quite work for passkeys. I’ll take it for logins, sudo, etc. though.
I’ve never done an iFixit thing, but I just spent five minutes swapping out my Nintendo 3DSXL’s battery with their fixit kit. Thoughtful, simple tools and clear instructions.
It’s been kind of fun looking at things through the lens of “how little do I need to accomplish this?” with technology stuff. It’s been informative to refresh a few old laptops with Linux, because I’m operating on two timelines:
Timeline One is the “caveman wakes up in the future” timeline. I stopped bothering with desktop Linux for day-to-day work almost 20 years ago. I’m confident of the date, because Ben is almost 20, and the pending arrival of a child started my thoughts down the track of “I don’t think playing with desktop Linux or self-hosting my mail server are great uses of my time.” (It didn’t hurt that the fan in the mail server sitting in what was to be the nursery threw a bearing and started smoking: Suddenly hosted email didn’t seem like an infringement on my sacred tech autonomy.)
From that perspective – stone age Linux person whose first window manager was fvwm – what I’m seeing now, and what it can do on old machines, is really cool. It’s been interesting to see the way the dialectic of simplification and flexibility has played out, because I remember how savage it got in the direction of “remove as much choice as possible” during the shift to GNOME 2.
Timeline Two is slightly less caveman-like if you’re as old as I am, and that dates back to the netbook fad, which had me excited because it answered a thing I’d wanted a few years prior, which was just “some little commodity device I can run a lightweight Linux on.” I even had an eeePC and then a followup to that. By that point Ubuntu (specifically Xubuntu) was a thing, so running a lightweight desktop Linux didn’t seem as fussy. I think Chromebooks killed that whole notion in the market, though, I’m sure Microsoft hated them, and netbooks were ergonomic nightmares anyhow.
But that netbook dream never went away — that desire for a fusion of “just enough to get practical things done” and “super-duper portable” and “cheap!” I just started making enough money to get detoured into attempts to go full-time with an iPad or buying the smallest “regular” laptop.
So it’s been cool to take these seven and eight year old machines, step through a ridiculously simple install process with any of several perfectly suitable distros, and come out the other side with a computer that is definitely able to get practical things done, is pretty portable, and is very cheap. And it’s been cool to find and dust off my old 3DS and consider how much fun is left in it, and feel appreciative of outfits like iFixIt, which make it easy to extend its useful life (though on that front, you could manage that replacement with a tongue depressor, letter opener, and eyeglass screwdriver kit).
And it makes me a little sorry I’ve wasted the money I have on some of the gear I have sitting around, or that I’ve been cycling through the tech at a pretty aggressive clip over the past … I dunno … 10 years? I just really didn’t need a lot of it, and I’m irritated with myself for falling into the cycle at all.
Some of it was “I can have this faster, nicer thing, so I will,” and some of it was getting caught up in the idea that everything needs to snap together seamlessly. That if a way exists to eliminate some petty friction by a few keystrokes or seconds of effort, then by all means it must be eliminated. Apple’s very good at knitting a bunch of things together in a way that may well be playing out in parallel form in the other major consumer tech stacks and ecosystems (Android, Windows), but Apple’s who got their hooks in me first.
If I seem like I’m being hard on myself, well, it’s because I am.
I’m one of those people who tends to assume that I’m probably Doing This Worse than most people around me anyhow, and that most people I know don’t have the combination of wiring and temperament that will drive them to get as hung up on everything needing to be smooth and seamless. I’m not saying I’ve ever spent the grocery money on better-syncing todos or flawless Bluetooth handoffs, but I probably could have had a few more nice dinners or weekend getaways, anyhow, and in hindsight would prefer to have had those experiences over, like, whatever my iCloud fees have netted me, or whatever a half-or-quarter-as-frequent phone refresh schedule could have accomplished, or whatever I got from exercising my curiosity about the one incremental nicer thing more on each MacBook order.
Anyhow, I am happy now to feel my tech restlessness circling around playing, fiddling, and exploring with old stuff that has some fun left in it. It feels wholesome enough. I’ll fret about the great life experiences lost to screen time on the next go-round.
I was looking for a Choosy replacement for Linux and found an actual Choosy replacement and not a workaround. Browsers does exactly what I want: You make it the system default browser, and it pops up and offers a menu whenever you hit a link (outside the browser).
The color calibration on this old ThinkPad is not great – very blue. I’d love to do a proper calibration, or find some sort of eyeball wizard like you get on Macs, but I was introduced to the
xgamma command today and it’s standing in:
xgamma -bgamma 0.6 took care of it. I stuck it in
feedly seems to have done a 180 on its whole strike monitoring thing – it now features models that monitor unsafe & poor working conditions instead. I looked because it has the best filtering & filter training of any RSS service & I was hoping it’d backed off the wrong side of labor stuff.
Here’s a simple guide for getting an 11" MacBook Air (ca. 2015) up and running with the latest Linux Mint.
I am a little surprised at how capable these machines are for being almost nine years old. If your use case is “edit some text, visit some sites,” they’re more than up for it, and they’re pretty close in size and weight to an 11" iPad Pro, but with a real keyboard and real computer stuff going on in them.
You can find these for very little money all over the place. If you want a very clean one, modernized with a fast SSD, OWC sells these, and it’s worth keeping an eye on available stock since it fluxuates. As I type this, you can get a 2014 model in “good” condition with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $99. Another $100 takes it up to a TB and “very good” condition.
There are a few tradeoffs. The biggest one for me is that the displays are decidedly “pre-Retina.” I can use an iPad Pro or modern MacBook Pro uncorrected, but I get the progressives out for this thing every time. The batteries are also fading at this point, but OWC will sell you a sub-$100 DIY upgrade kit to handle that if you’re not going to keep it tethered to an outlet.
There are two things that take a little extra effort compared to doing this on a ThinkPad or some other non-Apple device with good support:
- Getting Wi-Fi working
- Getting the webcam working
We will get to these, and the order I recommend for all this is to help a little further down the line when you’re trying to get your userland set up.
The main thing you need before you get going is a thumb drive. I got a 128GB SanDisk that converts between USB A and C for about $18.
Pick an edition and download the image.
Which edition? People on the ‘net offer conflicting advice, so I’ll just offer my experience having tried all three:
Cinnamon is fine. It runs smoothly, but if you think it is laggy you can turn off a few of the effects once the install is done. MATE and XFCE also work, and people complain about Cinnamon having some bugs. Nothing has really jumped out.
You can follow the guide for creating bootable media on a thumbdrive.
When your thumbdrive is all set, stick it one of the USB ports and boot up, finger poised over the
Hold down the
opt key when you hear the startup chime, and use the cursor key to boot into your Mint install image.
Once you’ve booted into the live CD environment, you can poke around and satisfy yourself that it’ll work. Once you’ve done that, just kick off the install by clicking on the install icon in the upper left desktop.
Step through the prompts. It’s all self-explanatory.
Once the installer is done, it’ll want you to reboot. Go ahead and do that.
Get Wi-Fi going on your first boot
There is a ton of advice about how to get Wi-Fi going on these machines and much of it is a little painful. Don’t do what I did and try to install all the needed packages one by one by hand. Mint comes with a perfectly good driver tool if you have your installation media on hand.
You’ll get a “Welcome Screen” app on your first boot. Head to the First Steps item on the sidebar, scroll down to the Driver Manager item, tap Launch, and follow the prompts to mount your boot media. It’ll do some churning then offer an option to select the Broadcomm Wi-Fi drivers. Go ahead and enable that and let it install them. It takes a little bit of time, and it’ll tell you that you have to reboot, but IME the system detects the hardware and pops up a dialog telling you that there are available networks without that.
Click the network icon down in the tray in the lower right and away you go.
Update everything else
With a working network connection, you should go ahead and run the Update Manager. It’s worth your time to take it up on the offer to select mirrors, because the default ones are pretty slow. If you wait long enough it’ll ping each one and offer a ranked list by download speed.
Run through your updates and go ahead and reboot.
Get the webcam working
Life gets much easier with a working webcam: Enrolling devices in Signal, logging into the 1Password app, etc. all go faster when you can just hold a QR code up to the camera.
This is a three-step process:
- Securing a copy of Apple’s proprietary drivers for the camera.
- Installing the kernel modules.
- Installing the iSight camera drivers.
Getting a copy of Apple’s drivers
Everyone’s very coy about this, encouraging you to just go out looking. You’re looking for a file called
AppleUSBVideoSupport. If you have a copy of Tiger or Leopard hanging around, it’s on their install media:
Otherwise, it’s around: Google for
AppleUSBVideoSupport and chances are good it’s in someone’s GitHub repo in the first few results.
Installing the kernel modules
Next up, you need to get the right kernel modules in place. This gist provides a script that handles that for you.
- Open a shell.
wgetthe URL of the raw gist
sudo sh 99-install-facetime-camera.sh
Watch things happen.
Installing the driver package
Once the script has run, it’s time to install the driver package. It is very helpful if you have the
AppleUSBVideoSupport file somewhere easy to type, like your home directory.
sudo apt install isight-firmware-tools
- When prompted, provide the full path to the
- Watch things happen.
The Cheese app is sort of like PhotoBooth on a Mac. It’s helpful for making sure the camera works.
sudo apt install cheese
A reboot is required to get all this to work, so do that. When you’ve logged back in, run
cheese to make sure the camera is working.
Get 1Password onto the device
Maybe it’s not the case for you, but I depend on 1Password. They ship a
.deb that works fine for Linux Mint.
You can download and install that. When you run it, you can use the device setup QR code from your phone and your newly working webcam to avoid having to type in your secret key.
Do everything else you need
With a working password manager, other things get easier:
- Access to license files I keep in 1Password (e.g. Sublime Text)
- Signing into Firefox syncing so I get the 1Password extension installed automatically.
- Installing the GitHub command line tool (
sudo apt install gh) and authenticating it via the browser, because that gives me access to a bunch of things like the gists where I keep configuration files.
- Setting up ssh using 1Password’s built-in agent. I just generate a local key to make sure ~/.ssh has the right permissions and use the in-app snippet to configure the ssh agent.
- Installing Tailscale, which uses GitHub authentication.
Use the Backup tool
Mint has a very capable little backup tool that archives your personal data and creates a restorable list of installed apps and packages. Once you’re settled in, give it a shot: It’ll save you some hassling around with re-installing everything on a second machine if you get bit by the “running Linux on old stuff” bug, or make it easier to shift to another Mint variant if Cinnamon isn’t doing it for you.
Well, Ahsoka has managed to prove a little divisive. I’d describe myself as “Camp Happy to See a New Episode Has Landed,” and Al is now thoroughly in “Camp Feel Free to Start Without Me, I’d Just Sleep Through It Anyhow.”
One dividing matter is all the lore. I went to see the animated feature that kicked off the Clone Wars series when it hit the theaters, so I know who Ahsoka is at all. There is also the matter of borrowing a hardcover edition of the first Thrawn book and reading it after deciding the five hits of acid I had taken over the course of two hours must have been construction paper, so why not stay in all night and read that new Star Wars book? Well, they weren’t construction paper, they were just sort of slow-acting, but there I was with that book, so it gave me something to do for the first few hours of that whole ride, and now I know who Admiral Thrawn is. I also know who Ezra and Sabine are because I watched maybe 1.5 episodes of Rebels at some point (completely sober). Oh, I also have one of the video games for a small education in Dathomir.
Al doesn’t have any of that, so she just has this vague sense that all these people mean something, but not why. It’s probably like being elbowed in the ribs repeatedly by someone who thinks you’re as excited about the presence of hyperspace-traversing star whales as they are, not because the whales themselves are cool, but because the whales are a callback to … something that happened somewhere else in some other property once?
But even though I’ve got a little of the lore, even if all the Thrawn stuff shows up in my memory palace as Dutch angles and a brief moment where I thought maybe the book had literally fused to my fingers, I’ve got a criticism of my own, which is that the pacing is most kindly described as stately. There are long stretches where I have a lot of time to think about that presentation due next Tuesday, and I’m grateful that the eight-year-old still living within understands in a very Pavolovian way that the snap/hiss of a lightsaber being activated stands for excitement.
Anyhow, I’ll probably finish the ride because I’m six episodes in, but it is a bit of a chore.
I was talking to a friend who was dealing with someone at work who won’t quit talking about his “positionality” whenever he’s in conflict with a woman or BIPOC person. Never making decisions, never getting past the 101-level agonizing, never saying “I’ve thought this through with the tools I have and now I need to act on my understanding.”
As she describes it, there’s a hint of anxious performativity to the whole thing. Not exactly cookie seeking, but in anxious need of affirmation, concerned over an invisible tribunal of public opinion and very concerned with demonstrating his awareness. It sounds like invoking his “positionality” and using other jargon is less an entry point to dialog and consideration, and more a shibboleth or absolving signification.
I suggested she just tell him she understands and trusts that he’s thoughtful in these matters, and that he should trust himself enough to behave in a manner reflective of his internal rigor; then move him on to outcomes. When I consider my own spotted past, that has worked best with me. Just … cut off the supply of affirmation and retract the invitation to further spiral, and make clear that your “awareness” profits you nothing if it is not put toward advancing something besides further discourse about your awareness.
I’ve said in small circles before that the best, most real conversations I’ve had about race were in the army. The place wasn’t perfect, but it provided certain conditions. I don’t think the institutional interactions on race were great, because the military is a reduction machine. But the interpersonal conversations I had, soldier-to-soldier and peer-to-peer, did more to expand my awareness and disabuse me of some misplaced ideas than anything ever sponsored by an HR team. Sometimes it was raw, and sometimes I didn’t learn because someone was patiently explaining, but because I could feel the heat of their anger and resentment. (Gender is an entirely different matter and I don’t have much good to say about that, even though I served in a branch of the army that attracted a lot of women because combat support was the best you could hope for as a woman at the time in terms of career-enhancing exposure to battle.)
Sometimes the response I get to those anecdotes is polite disbelief. People like my friend’s coworker are pretty caught up in the idea that if you’re not using quasi-academic jargon like “positionality” you can’t be real, and that if every human interaction isn’t an invitation for recursive, ever-spiraling interrogation, it cannot be authentic.
My friend certainly finds the whole thing stultifying and paralyzing, annoyed that on top of his constant fretting, this coworker also uses violent and judgmental language whenever he’s talking about people who don’t meet his standards of discourse. He’s invested not only in making sure we all understand him to be good, but that he is also a reliable identifier of all those who are bad. So he’s hard to work with even to the people he’d ally himself with, ineffective with anyone he’s tasked with contradicting if his squeamish conception of “positionality” suggests conflict, and a terrible ambassador to his own people — other white men who aren’t “where he is,” which is well versed in signification but pretty bad on getting anything done with all this awareness.
But my friend also has to sort of bargain with him and negotiate this complex of fretting and thought-terminating clichés and “be where he’s at” because if she just told him to knock it off and didn’t handle his feelings carefully, well, he’s on the record for calling people out who are “weak” on these matters in his estimation.
Wow she has to have a ton of patience.
This afternoon while I was rooting around for the little USB dongles for my mouse and keyboard I stumbled across one I don’t remember seeing anywhere before. It was too fat to be the ones I was looking for. I turned it over and saw it had “802.11n” silkscreened on the underside.
I took it into the tv room, stuck it in the 11" MacBook Air with Mint on it, and got a dialog to join a Wi-Fi network.
Given I didn’t want to try Pop!_OS on this thing because it’d be too much of a hassle to get Wi-Fi working, I took this as a sign, rebooted the machine with the Pop! USB stick and saw that it worked with that, too. So with a quick
sudo apt install bcmwl-kernel-source I had working Broadcom drivers and I went ahead and ran a permanent install. Now the 11" Air is a Pop! machine, which I much prefer to Mint/Cinammon on this little screen.
I need to put that Wi-Fi dongle somewhere safe. I had no idea it existed, don’t know where it came from, and will probably need it again for this thing at some point in the future. 802.11n must date it. The standard was published in 2009, and 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) came out in 2014. So there’s the window. Weird. At some point I needed Wi-Fi for something in a pinch, I guess.
Okay! It took a little fussing, but the ThinkPad 13 with Pop!_OS is docked with the new Dell, and the KVM stuff has a dedicated hotkey on the Mac side. Sadly no way to do that from the Linux side that’s readily apparent. Anyhow, if I want to have it I now have my Linux desktop machine.
How much will I use it this way? No idea. Most of my “casual creative endeavors” time is spent on a couch or in an easy chair. I don’t tend to sit at my desk to do much on my own time and I think I am mostly curious about how things like Pop!_OS’s Cosmic DE’s tiling WM works on a screen where you’d want to tile things.
I keep waiting to discover the weird metaphor drop-off or expectations mismatch that causes me to go “lol oh no what was I thinking,” but maybe the thing these third-degree derivative distros are here for is to smooth some of that stuff out. Debian’s the trees or raw ore or whatever, Ubuntu is a log cabin with as many weird gaps in construction quality as charming affordances, and the Debian grandchildren bring very distinctive points of view and hence a bit more consistency and focus.
So right now it’s just sort of “wow this is very clean and simple, why mess with it?” I like, for instance, that about ten minutes ago I stopped typing because I had a thought, and I stayed with that thought because there’s nothing asking for my attention or inviting fiddling. That is a combination of the working environment in the machine — just this very pared down desktop — and sitting in my office, which is a very calm place without a lot going on in it.
Spotted on the coffee walk this morning.
So, I have this ThinkPad 13 that’s maybe a rev or two ahead of the 11" MacBook Air on the CPU, with a panel of about the same quality. I got it refurbished for, I dunno, less than dinner for two at Lechon.
It’s nice! I’ve always liked the TrackPoint, the keyboard is good, and it benchmarks ahead of the Air by maybe 25 percent. Instead of Linux Mint I made a bootable thumbdrive for Pop!_OS on the theory that it all seems to be Ubuntu underneath so why not try out another take.
Visually it’s a little more playful than Mint. A little deeper, it seems like there’s less to fiddle around with in the settings. Down deep … just Ubuntu. Found all my hardware just fine, works with the PPA I found for Emacs 29, 1Password installed fine, etc. etc. etc. I like that there’s less going on. There’s not a huge number of preinstalled apps, the UI elements are big and discrete, the default type is old-eyes friendly. It moves the machine further into the territory of Web and Typing Appliance.
Once I have it settled in I think I will dock it in the office. I had to replace my LG monitor because it started turning pink, and the new Dell I’ve got has built-in KVM capabilities, so this could be the little desktop Linux machine I was thinking about.
Update: I got curious and tried the Pop!_OS live disk on the MacBook Air. Unlike Mint, which ships with a full superset of Ubuntu (and hence all the driver source), Pop!_OS has a very small set of packages and no driver manager. So you can’t get the packages you need to get Wi-Fi or Bluetooth working from the install disk, and that puts you in the position of needing to get them onto the machine somehow (either with a USB networking dongle or just copying them from somewhere else). So Mint’s the better pick for older MacBooks. It makes sense that Pop!_OS is like that: It’s distributed by a hardware vendor so the “run on anything from the past 20 years” use case is probably less of a priority. And, I mean, “eh.” On the Air I’m running most stuff in fullscreen mode anyhow, and the launcher for both Mint and Pop! is on the super key. So why fuss with it?
I’m giving Joplin a try for cross-platform notes. It’s just “open source Evernote with first-class Markdown that runs on everything I have and syncs over Dropbox.” I don’t type many notes lately, but I’ve been missing something that lets me do a thing on the mac Studio, then wander downstairs and pick up the Linux Air and keep going, and it looks like it could possibly be the receipt box I used to have in Evernote, but never felt quite right with Apple Notes.
“But Mike, why not …”
Because it’s just a simple, slightly clunky, pointy-clicky thing that took about ten seconds each to configure on a phone, a Linux laptop, a couple of Macs and an iPad mini.
I am sure it will do something to annoy me, but the interesting thing about tossing a superannuated Linux Mint MacBook Air into the mix has been that “good enough” takes on a whole new meaning.
Maybe being in a situation where keyboard shortcuts are a little different from machine to machine, none of the stuff that will work with all of your stuff is particularly “gorgeous” or “lickable,” and the work to make it all be more cohesive and consistent simply isn’t worth it takes the act of “using computers” and reduces it.
Maybe the machine — the machines — can stop being a recursive, fractal instigator of fussy neuroticism. There are just other things to do.
It looks pretty nice and it’s great to see an option with more physical controls. Sounds like Nikon lenses with aperture rings are thin on the ground, and Nikon only makes two lenses that match the aesthetics of the body. I don’t know if that matters for purposes of this exercise.
My last “upper lowest tier” dSLR before I sold the body and lenses to fund a Fujifilm X100S was a Nikon. I was never able to warm up to it, partly because it was a creature of menus. When I decided to get an interchangeable lens camera, Fujifilm ILCs were the obvious path.
Right now I’m just sitting with “what do the aesthetics matter?” running through my head, and … they seem to?
Like, I like the look of the body, and I like the manual controls, and full-frame has an appeal. But there is something to me about the disconnect between the lens design and the body that turns me off.
My sense, I guess, is that Fujifilm has fully committed to the bit when it comes to its whole “physical controls, vintage aesthetic” thing. Everything feels like it belongs with everything else. There’s some deviation here and there, as with the X-H series and a few lenses that they pushed out to bundle with the lower end bodies, but everything feels like it mostly harmonizes and conforms to a design sensibility that is integral to the products.
The ZF feels more to me like a very large company peeled off some product design resources to reskin something it makes anyhow, and is willing to do a few accompanying lenses for people who want the full vintage design ride. Enough to not completely miss the film-revival-inspired bus, and maybe peel off people who are lined up for an X100 owing to its sudden popularity with influencers. But if I had to look for parallels, this feels more like a “heritage brand” play than anything — something I expect equity plays to pull with some IP they bought cheap from the zombie remnants of a storied company that didn’t survive the 20th century.
Maybe that’s the thing about bits: There are good bits and bad bits, and sometimes the meaningful difference between them is that question of commitment.
I’ve been kind of crabby and oppositional about Apple stuff because I’ve been trying to pay more attention to what goes on inside my head when I interact with the part of tech media that’s about obsessively tracking product lifecycles.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a shift when new Apple stuff comes out because I like Apple stuff. Even when they’re just talking about phones and watches I find myself looking at my laptop, desktop, and tablet, too, wondering if it’s time to think about a refresh.
So we go into an update cycle, and all these conversations happen. There are the people saying “this isn’t even an update, I’m disappointed,” and the people who are saying “this is awesome, I want one,” and the paid writers who depend on our traffic who are commercially obligated to say something, and the “advocate” layer who are going to come up with some reason to patiently explain that something about this is all reflective of Apple’s Grand Design or whatever. And the “just let people like the things they like” people, which is one of the more contradictory positions in the discourse, because … just think about it.
Look, I was going to say “nobody likes a scold.” But I think it’s more like “very few people like every scold on every topic, and we all seem to like certain scolds on certain topics,” and I think it’d be worth asking “what even is a scold?”
Because regardless of whatever your personal upgrade cycle is, or how long you’ve been nursing along your half-dead old phone from four years ago or whatever, the industry that is making these goddamn things counts on a layer of people who just want to update their phone every year if given even a vague pretext to do so, and as a macro cultural, economic and environmental question I think it’s in bounds to say “that doesn’t seem sustainable or healthy.” It’s even in bounds to express dissent on even flimsier grounds – matters of aesthetics, taste, or simple dumb oppositionalism to the amount of time wasted thinking about phones.
I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with questions of tone and advocacy; and how candor, tact, kindness, and pragmatism interact. I see a lot of, er, modes of discourse that bother me because, frankly, it’s just some asshole who seems to care about something I care about, too, advocating for that thing in the worst possible way, guaranteed to drive people off. I cringe. And when they get self-righteous about it, I get angry.
But I also think that sometimes you have to put a little sauce on the pitch, because it’s a pretty complex world out there and it is very hard to walk that fine line of making connections, drawing peoples' attention to the impact of choices they may or may not have consciously considered, and staking out some ground over the ways that the world is currently one way and should probably be another without someone out there somewhere in the vast discursive space that is The Internet feeling a little put off.
So, it’s okay to care enough about something that you don’t always use your best words. It’s definitely okay to risk making other people uncomfortable. We all have to do our own cost-benefit analysis about the modes we engage in, and the tones we choose, and how deep our desire is to influence instead of berate.
“What if this neoliberal era was less a reaction against certain sixties impulses than the fullest possible realization of them?”