Confessions of a Conflicted Mac User

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away . . .

. . . I used a Mac.

I’m not proud. It was college, I got an educational discount, and it was
the time to experiment. I didn’t confess this to my gamer friends, since to
use a Mac in the 90s was anathema, relegating me to one of Dante’s lesser
known levels of Hell (Circle 3A.: The Land of n00b). My punishment was to
play Myst on OS 8 while my friends laughingly played the newest and
brightest games. By junior year (1996), I was broken. I bought parts for
and built my own PC, loaded up Windows, and never looked back.

Coincidentally, I decided to abandon Apple at the same time Steve Jobs
returned to the fold, and by ’97 Jobs was CEO of Apple. Serious programmers
kept telling me that the buyout of a UNIX-type company (NeXT, Jobs’s old
company) was going to be the biggest thing for the computer since DARPA.
They came out with the iMac in ’98, but I still looked at with some
disdain. Sure, it’s pretty, but will it run any fucking games? The answer
was no, because no one wanted to make games for the Mac. They, like me, had
been burned before.

But in late 2004, Blizzard officially launched World of Warcraft out of a
stellar beta-test period, and things began to radically change. Not since
Bungie came out with Halo 2 had I seen this many “non-gamers” embrace a
game. And WoW didn’t just come for the PC—it was also released
simultaneously for the Mac. Everything had come full circle; “Warcraft: Orcs
and Humans” was one of the first games I had played on my Mac in 1995 or so,
and now it was going to be the saving grace of Apple in the gaming realm.

I hate to play up gaming so much, but PC gaming has been taking a beating
lately from the console market. But despite the excellent gaming consoles
out there, and the superior XBox Live service, the arena is strewn with the
carcasses of old gladiators I thought would never die (TurboGrafx 16—I’ll
mourn ya til I join ya). I longed for the return of the quintessential PC
game. I would get my wish with the MMORPG push, of course, and just like
porn has pushed the Internet, games have pushed computer hardware. In June,
I watched the Apple adoption of Intel processors with some interest. What,
pray tell, was Apple’s strategy here? Why open yourself up in that way?
Apple had always been able to dictate the pace of the hardware that
integrated with their software, and this seemed like a bit of a silly move.
Sure, you’d get better speed from an Intel processor, but at what cost?

Now, Boot Camp is out, and all has been made clear. Boot Camp is bundled
with Leopard and allows you to run Windows XP applications natively on an
Intel-based Mac. We’d done things like this before (“we” being me and other
dorky friends) to run Windows on Linux using WINE (which sucked balls) so
that we could play StarCraft for free (don’t tell Blizzard), or dual-booted
a Windows/Linux system to play games and do the work we had to do for a
living. But no one ever took us seriously. Now, I guess they do.

So what does all this mean? The biggest thing is the reduction in risk for
gaming companies. More people will be coming to the Mac to do everything,
not just work on a Mac and play on a PC. Hell, even the boys at Penny Arcade, the premiere gaming comic
written by gamers for gamers, recently converted to Apple. All
of this indicates that the Mac may rise as a golden but tarnished god on the
horizon of the gaming pantheon. Microsoft Vista has been panned everywhere
I’ve read about it, and the siren’s call of Apple is driving my Argo towards
the rocks again. Hopefully, this time, I won’t crash.



With Hollywood showing off iMac sets and characters in Sky Captain, Richard Sylvarnes—who, Gallo-style, scripted, directed, scored, and photographed this empty opus—delivers the indie equivalent in which all the writing seems auto-programmed by his old PC. In this mystery about a catatonic woman possibly possessed by the ghost of her doctor’s dead wife, stilted lines alternate with ominous pauses and an annoying Pure Moods score tinkling around an oppressive sound design. Even by low-budget DV standards, the look is crude—think Peter Gabriel music videos circa “Sledgehammer,” sans claymation or creativity.


Garage Garage

Dizzee Rascal’s debut single is the point where Euro-terror techno gets crunked up, all boings and claps and sickly keyboards. His text is the battle of the sexes devolved to the schoolyard. Or Stone Age. Dizzee versus “some whore/ bangin at your door/what for?/15?/she’s underage/that’s raw.” A cauterized fembot intones those “three magic words” but Dizzee’s chick knows better: “That boy’s some prick ya know/ all up in my hair/thinks that I care.” Love, or at least mutual apathy, 2003-style.

It’s funny like watching a particularly voluble couple go at it in the street. Pick under the beat-scabs and boasting and it’s gone maggoty and depressing. Broke and fresh out of high school, Dizzee really seems to possess the truth only known by guttersnipes. His friends get jumped? That’s a song. Community service for petty theft? A song. The 15-year-old gets pregnant? Err . . .

Hours on British pirate radio gave the boy a real talent for twisting ye olde English into ridiculous Play-Doh shapes. The BBC’s already noticed, voting him fifth in line for “Artists to Watch in 2003,” even though he’s just now been signed. Mike Skinner thinks Dizzee’s (alert the Hague) the future of music. And speaking of juvenile nihilism, Vice magazine wanted to release “I Luv U” as a seven-inch before being priced out, linking garage punk 45s with U.K. garage 12-inches.

So Dizzee’s just more hooligan house? Perhaps. But on the flip-side mix of “I Luv U,” over a subdued thump and twinkly chimes, like a ruff Röyksopp, Dizzee tells us he wants “a girl with brains as well as looks,” but concedes “can you teach me to share/I don’t know how to care” in the chorus. Both mixes are balder generational assessments than anything American “reality rap” has attempted —and more sadly beautiful than anything knocked out with a mic and an iMac has any right to be.


Left To My Own Devices


1983 Fifth grade. I learn pre-algebra and type up papers on the chic Apple IIe. It’s love at first byte—and Commodore 64s are so passé. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Harvard students are dropping quarters into Digital Decmate 1 word processors.

1989 Senior year. Applications for eight colleges are due in less than two weeks. Doing the Dew night after night and pounding the pavement to the post office pays off. I use my ever trusty Smith Corona electronic typewriter, which still kicks the ass of my friend’s clunky Brother word processor.

1990 College begins with a whimper, as I spend most of freshman year camped out in my best friend’s dorm room, bent over her new Mac Classic. I’m pulling all-nighters, churning out the greatest hits of feudal Japanese history at the astonishing speed of four pages per minute on a Hewlett-Packard laser printer.

1991 VAXing from the basement of the library is necessary to reach my Canadian friends. Rigid keyboards and green-tinted monitors aggravate already complicated command protocols, but this early version of e-mail sure beats $10 a minute by phone. Meanwhile, selective narcolepsy kicks in (e.g., European history, 9:45 a.m., turniplike professor). What does any rational-minded student do when faced with the prospect of imminent failure? Dust off the state-of-the-art microcassette recorder and snooze the class away. Naturally, the actual transcription never happens; I wind up taking the class pass/fail.

1991 Apple sucks. Excitement over the purchase of a Macintosh LC loaded with the works (and a laser printer the size of Montana) dissipates quickly when the LC II comes out less than six months later. It’s hard not to feel screwed. Apple’s aesthetic seduction leads to the tech equivalent of a cheap fling, because the old model becomes not just obsolete but discontinued after a frenzied courtship.

1992 LEXIS-NEXIS rocks my research world. CD-ROM databases start to proliferate around the library as evidence of a new wave of information technology. The ability to access reams of facts and figures is literally at our fingertips. And it’s free!

1993 At other schools, computers and keyboards are installed in each auditorium seat to facilitate a completely interactive learning environment. Multimedia presentations keep MTV-nursed students glued to lectures otherwise unsuitable to the attention-deficit generation.

1994 Less than one year after graduation and the campus is wired. The Ethernet hooks up students on- and off-campus to a network with a powerful mainframe. Students plug into the Internet for next to nothing. Revolution. Called “networking to the pillow,” high-speed network connections are built into dorms, classrooms, and labs.

1995 Grad school in Silicon Valley. The computer lab is my first prolonged exposure to the Internet and the World Wide Web. All I know is that addictive personalities have another cause for worry. Reading through the e-mailed fan postings for Lois & Clark induces assembly-line hypnosis: 100-plus messages a day, on every detail of every episode. Assignments fall by the wayside. Once reality beckons—I have to use this for school?—technology overload occurs. Lurking in BBS cross-country becomes commonplace but chat rooms are still taboo territory for me.

First laptop. True to form, it’s a Power-Book. “Once bitten, twice shy” apparently does not apply to me. Just one look—and I’m hooked. The color. The relative speed. The touch pad. It is all part of Apple’s deal with the devil, but it plays out so beautifully among the faux Italian palazzi that surround the quad. It is easy to sign such a Faustian compact.

Smith Corona, one of the last U.S. typewriter makers, files for bankruptcy. Brother Industries has one plant and employs 800 people making typewriters and word processors.

Elsewhere, Jennifer Ringley, a junior at Dickinson College, starts JenniCam as a project for a computer class. jump-starts the digital voyeur revolution.

1996 Life is all about e-mail (PINE/Eudora system) and code. I know that now. In the middle of the night I write to friends, reach out and touch the last tethers of sanity . . . as time runs out on my Web project and my master’s thesis comes to a close. We learn to write in basic HTML and JavaScript. Immersion in the design aspect of the project subsumes the substantive backup, yet in 12 hours a fairly balanced final product gets put up for all the world to see.

1997 My younger sister is entering her freshman year. She and a friend have built her computer from scratch, the way other people scrap together a stereo system. She’s part of a new generation raised on computers, the I (Internet) Generation. She comes to class prepared with a Motorola pager, a Nokia cell phone, and a Sharp Wizard 256 KB electronic organizer (pre-PalmPilot and infinitely more economical). ICQ (“I seek you”) arguments with the more conservative older sibling erupt from one coast to the other when she brings up the idea of piercing her tongue. Request chat room NOW.

1998 Annual typewriter consumption is down from 10 million a decade ago to about 3 million, a drop of over 70 percent. Seventy percent of the market is in the third world.

New York. Two doors down from the police precinct and the apartment gets broken into—and what is lost will never again be found: The PowerBook gets nabbed. Years of poetry, prose, and angst-filled journal entries go down the drain.

1999 Apple has 160 campus reps spread across the country. They are missionaries hoping to convert the uninitiated to the truth of Steven Jobs’s vision. U.S. Robotics’ PalmPilots move from the boardroom to the classroom in record time. Others hold out for the new Visors from Handspring, which have modular capabilities to accommodate constant tech innovations—such as the superhot MP3s, perfect for music-obsessed college students who have already burned CDs ad infinitum.

In early January iMacs come out in five colors, a peacock flourish for this campus juggernaut. Apple’s success lies with its intuitive grasp of cutting-edge appeal without the intimidation factor, whether it’s including DVD players within the newest iMacs or introducing stylish flat screens as part of the G4’s new look. The combination of technical prowess and sleek design is akin to the melding of VH-1 with the fashion world. Students are wooed and comforted by the prevalence of the brand on campuses and the user-friendly OS. But while students live in the ideological collegiate bubble, they can afford to indulge Apple’s Wonka-like confections.

The live Webcam plays on the desire to be the center of attention, however mundane the activity. At, college kids can download free software to use with their little image makers. (Meanwhile, 23-year-old Jennifer Ringley, a Web designer in D.C., is raking in paid subscriptions from some of the 4.5 million hits a day her JenniCam site gets.)

It all seems to culminate in WebDorm—the first online interactive Webcam environment that allows students to build worldwide communities using live cameras and chat. It’s The Real World set to the monotony of college life. In the end, it’s somehow appropriate that students, with their hunger for whatever’s new, become the very thing they seek. They become technology.



Education Supplement Table of Contents

Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES

Dead is God

After playing with the jazz fusion super-group Dixie Dregs, keyboard sensation T Lavitz formed Jazz is Dead. Its sole purpose is to take the Grateful Dead’s compositions, turn them inside out and reconstruct them into fiery jazz numbers. With Plainview native Rod Morgenstein behind the skins, Lavitz brings Jazz Is Dead to the IMAC on Friday. He recently led Ian D’Giff down the road to unlimited devotion:

Long before Jazz is Dead was conceptualized, you had auditioned for the Dead’s keyboard slot—after Brent Mydland died in ’90, right?

It was crazy. Just like one-chord jams that went on and on. And Jerry, I’m not kidding you, by the end was standing over me with his glasses falling down on his nose, the way they did, kind of shaking his head “yes,” smiling and just going for it. I thought, because of the way he was acting, that I had it. For a minute I was on top of the world. I think Bob Weir himself, a couple of days later, told me that unfortunately they needed a keyboardist who could sing.

Before that audition, how into the music of the Dead were you?

Our bass player Alphonso Johnson, he was in Weather Report. I own their albums, I saw them twice. Am I not a Weather Report fanatic? I am, I love them. If I were to say that I’m a Weather Report head, nobody would argue it. I know their names, what they play, their tunes. Now, the Grateful Dead, I own their albums, I saw them twice and, hey, I even jammed with them once. But I mean as a fan, I saw them a couple of times. Am I not a Deadhead? Hell, no. To me I am, but to the people who throw away their lives and buy an old bus and leave home and see 200 or 300 shows, I ain’t nothing.

What’s the attraction to playing jam-based music?

With Jazz is Dead, man, we’ll play for two hours, and only 45 minutes of it is worked out. There is so much jamming and improvisation going on it makes you dig deep so it doesn’t sound stale. That was the attraction of the Dead, too. They had these beautifully poetic evocations and imagery and then they would go off and play really crazy stuff.

Jazz Is Dead 8 and 10:30pm, Nov 26 at IMAC, 370 New York Ave, Huntington. 516-549-ARTS. $21-$27.50.


A Lot of Nerve

It’s all in the decor. In this case, we’re talking stainless steel desks, black space-age chairs, and iMacs. These items are resting on a hardwood floor, freshly polyurethaned, in a SoHo loft on Broadway. If a TV producer conjured a set for a hip web zine, he couldn’t do any better. Of course, the TV version would be an illusion and this is a real office. In the corner sits Rufus Griscom (third from left in photo), the editor and CEO of, and that really is an Adorno tome on his desk, and he really does want to be as helpful as he can for this interview. After all, everything really is happening for Nerve.

Next month, the little-erotica- Web-zine- that-could will transform into a community space and portal, replete with homepage building, e-mail, chat, bulletin boards, and personal ads. In January, plans to debut a print version, sold online, to be followed with distribution in bookstores. Private investors with $10 million have given Nerve a boost, and industry analysts now think the site could be the first adult play to make it as an IPO. And the recently launched German, French, and Spanish versions of the site already bring in a big chunk of the company’s ad revenue. isn’t profitable, but hey, it’s growing. Fast.

All this makes a good story, and Nerve has always courted publicity with uncanny skill, from that first puff on CNN just days after they launched, a scant two years ago— Griscom and then lover Genevieve Field (center in photo) conceiving the site over Chinese food on the floor of their one-bedroom apartment— all the way down to today, when a publicist is on staff to “help” the stories along. Somewhere, though, is an analyst who has taken a look at the mathematical reality.

“Clearly they are going to generate a lot of buzz, but you can’t live on buzz alone,” says Aram Sinnreich, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. ‘‘Nerve has a very limited market, and in order to make money on a limited market you have to offer a lot of services, which is obviously what they are trying to do. But I don’t think there is a big enough market to support them.”

Sinnreich could so easily be wrong. Nerve could be the next Playboy media empire; as president and editorial director Field says, “we’ve been thinking big all along.” All that Nerve has to do is embody the spirit of a new sexual movement, to position itself on the cusp of change the way Playboy did more than 40 years ago. The comparison may appear a touch forced— after all, Hefner threw bashes for the
masses, whereas Nerve holds soirées for the post-gender crowd. But if the parties were raunchier in the ’60s, or if the site seems too studied to be radical, realize that Nerve is as sharp as the straight edge can get before it loses all hope of profitability. No
other zine draws as diverse a crowd of hot writers, from Dennis Cooper to A.M. Homes, although the gems are often by less-known talents, such as a very popular recent piece of reportage by Leif Ueland about a porn star’s 500-man gang bang.

The trouble is that at this point you can’t say whether Nerve is a simulacrum or the real thing, whether all that cool furniture belongs to a next-generation mover and shaker— or to a Web site that’s enjoyed a lot of press and modest financial success by publishing quality photos and prose, but whose future remains limited to a small number of people interested in “literate smut.” Is it a better
story than a business? Perhaps it’s no surprise that the answer depends more on how the zine navigates the waters of big-time media than on whether it convinces Rick Moody to muse a little more about the joys of polysexuality.

These days, it’s Griscom who runs the business end, and he knows, without giving the game away, exactly what a delicate spot Nerve is in. But if anybody can make a highbrow content play work out, well, it’s going to be a guy like 31-year-old Griscom, someone who wears Oxford shirts with crazy-quilt slacks and can talk cash-blend ad deals as easily as postmodernism. He certainly possesses that rare ability to ooze an aphorism (“I believe in running for the purposes of locomotion”) as readily as talk market risk (“our revenue story is very solid”). But is that enough?

Let’s start with basics: you are planning to launch a magazine in January. What is the projected circulation, who is the
audience, and why does a Web site need a magazine? We are exploring a new strategy for launching a print magazine. We are going to create a beautiful physical magazine, start with a small print run, and market it exclusively online. It may be hard to find a copy of the first issue— we are interested in generating grassroots buzz and creating demand without spending a lot of money. We are investing a considerable amount of money in the content, though— top writing, photography, design, paper stock, and so on.


Are any sections planned already? We will be doing lengthy reported pieces each month— and we will simultaneously make documentary segments in most cases. Streamed documentary footage will accompany the stories [when they are posted online], and we also use the segments, which will be television quality, as one of the early projects of NerveStudios.

What makes this different from Playboy? Everything. First of all Nerve is predicated on the belief that there is a symmetry of desire between men and women. What is most radical about Nerve on some level is that I think it marks the first time that the male experience and the female experience have been close enough to one another that they could be embodied in a single magazine, and there is also a coherent Nerve sensibility which informs both the photography and writing.

Describe that sensibility. An interest in the humanity of the sexual experience, whether it’s embarrassing, beautiful, peculiar, ugly, sad, what have you. It’s the same kind of curiosity that causes people to look at their feces before flushing.

Charming . . . We are fascinated by our bodies and the things that they do and I think that this is one of the most intriguing frontiers for great writers and photographers.

It sounds like what makes Nerve different is that the editors don’t dictate what makes good sex or interesting sex, whereas in Playboy you have this hierarchical view that feeds the reader one standard of sexual expression. I think the people at Playboy are not genuinely interested in great writing. They have bought some great writing over the years because they could afford it, but it was never central to their mission. Playboy has always been about surface-level pleasure and the God-
given right to that pleasure, and that was radical in the early ’60s.

So do you think it’s radical now to talk about sex that is not pleasurable? Absolutely. I personally have a great interest in bad sex because I think it’s relatively untrodden territory. It’s something people have a hard time talking about, and in fact we are involved in a film project on the subject. But we also have a great interest in documenting near-apocalyptic sexual triumphs.

Apocalyptic sex sounds like Norman Mailer. But are most of your writers macho straight men? Or are they gay men, writing for straight men and women? We have many gay writers, but definitely not a majority. We’ve published a number of pieces by unsensitive guys. Eighty-five percent of our readers describe themselves as straight, but, yeah, I think this is a key point. I think an interest in sexual experiences and preferences that one doesn’t have and doesn’t intend to have is part of this new, late-’90s sensibility. It takes a level of sexual confidence that people haven’t had, en masse, in past decades to want to understand experiences far from one’s own.

You are talking about a kind of voyeurism. Definitely, but more than that a suspension of judgement and a genuine affection for difference.

I think the voyeurism aspect is really key to Nerve, especially when you are talking about having people put up their own sex-centric home pages on your site. Voyeurism online with high-res televideo will be an extraordinary, powerful phenomenon. Tens of billions of dollars will be spent; a large portion of the population will participate at some point.

Everyone has a democratic right to be the star of their own porn film. Is that what you are betting on? Well, I believe everybody has a need to star . . . and therefore they will. Porn itself is underwhelming. I think most people have seen porn and associate it with a kind of post-orgasmic disappointment in themselves and the sexual experience.

So, finally, what makes Nerve different from Salon‘s Urge section is that you give people the venue— now through the reader feedback section, but later through home-page hosting— to express their own sexuality, as opposed to reading about somebody else’s. Well, I think the caliber of our writing is better and the project as a whole is considerably more daring. We are taking risks that they aren’t taking. I am thinking primarily of the photography, but also I think we have less of a concern about offending with the writing. But they definitely have good writers and publish some great material.

Do you think of Nerve as pushing the culture, rather than following? Yes, I do. We have never changed our content for advertisers, or with advertisers in mind.


Will blue-chip American advertisers ever associate with Nerve? Absolutely. They are starting to come on board. CBS Sportsline, CD Now, UBid are a few of the larger advertisers we have had in past months. We definitely have more work to do on the advertising front. It’s a gradual process but we think mainstream culture is moving in our direction. I heard Nike has a new ad campaign with nudity; I think many mainstream advertisers in the U.S. will start to move in this direction in the next few years.

In the new Nerve community space, are you going to censor insensitive remarks and hate pages? What about a man who has rape fantasies? We will definitely censor illegal and really revolting stuff, but I think you guide a community more by highlighting material that you like. Emma Taylor, our VP of community development, used to be at Tripod, and removing inappropriate material was one of her responsibilities. The community governs itself to a degree. What’s critical is to let it do so.

I suspect the community will be more interested in the spirit of postings than crossing any particular line. And we have never not published photographs because they were too graphic; we have only not published them because they weren’t interesting enough. We are obviously big believers in free speech over here.

But you are not absolutists about free speech. If you have a few loud people without any subtlety who drive away hundreds of really interesting people, the community isn’t working well.

Are you competition for Tripod? No. I think Tripod and Geocities aren’t cohesive communities with a coherent sensibility. They are highly successful business models. I don’t want to post my life on a business model.

So is Nerve warm and fuzzy? No, it’s decidedly not warm and fuzzy. . . . We are interested in attracting thick-skinned women and men who aren’t afraid of them.

Are you rich yet? No. On paper, I guess, but many a spill between the cup and the lips. I think we are likely to be the first sex-related content company to go public with mainstream backing.

What’s the print run of the magazine? I can’t say at this point. Sixty-five percent of Nerve readers polled said they would pay for a print mag subscription; we have 750,000 different monthly readers right now. . . . I think it’s not unreasonable that we could get to a circulation of a half a million a couple years out if we do it right.

Your relationship [with Genevieve] was a big part of the initial press coverage. The media oozed over this
“labor of love” and couple thang. Now you guys have split. Does that parallel Nerve‘s growth from a small-time, closely-held baby project? [Long pause] The story had pretty much shifted from being about us to being about the company in the last year, which is nice. There is nothing more powerful than love, but an erupting, pre-IPO Internet company that actually stands for something you believe in is a close second.