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Macworld 2009: a few thoughts*

January 8, 2009

Have you ever really thought about the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz? It’s beautiful isn’t it? Gemstone towers rising up out of that great big field, filled with gorgeous people who appear to go about their lives happily and peacefully despite being overly enamored of the color green… Okay so that part is a little creepy, but lets skip that and get to the really cool bits… Then Dorothy and her friends get in this carriage pulled by a magical color-changing horse, and travel around a city filled with wonderful things. They get makeovers in a salon that caters to everyone from Tin Men to Scarecrows to Lions. Where they can dye your eyes to match your dress, even. And besides being beautiful, everyone there is very talented and have awesome singing voices. There’s all this really cool stuff going on every single day in the Emerald City.

But why do people go there? Is it for the salons or the indecisively coated horses or the phenomenally cool shit they have?

No. It’s to see the Wizard of Oz.

But even though nobody gets in to actually see the Great Oz, they know he must be pretty great, right? After all, he’s got this big tower, and guards with unlikely hats, and he’s obviously either a reclusive eccentric or overbooked for the next century because it’s so difficult to get in to see him. Clearly he’s got to be the most awesome thing in the Emerald City, right?

Only it turns out he’s nothing more than smoke and mirrors and stage lights, and a bagful of gadgets that mean nothing until they’re in the right hands.

Welcome to Macworld.

With all the talk this year about Apple’s Big Announcement—that Steve Jobs wouldn’t be doing the keynote and that Apple will no longer have a booth on the show floor—we’re finally getting a glimpse at the world behind the curtain. And you know what? It’s exactly the same as it was before. The only difference is now people are beginning to see the smoke and mirrors for what they are and that’s disappointing them. It sucks to find out your Big Awesome Wizard is a normal man, with normal human failings and nothing more than a bag of gadgets.

Yes, they’re really slick gadgets, but they’re just gadgets nevertheless.

Had Steve Jobs stood up on that stage on Tuesday, instead of Phil Schiller, and announced the EXACT SAME products and services, the geek world would have cheered them. They’d have been awesome!!! (as Rhino the hamster would have enthused). Maybe not as awesome as the iPhone was, but still. The Great Jobs would have spoken and all would have bowed before his magnificence.

Smoke and mirrors and flaming heads, my friends.

The truly sad thing about all of this is that, like the Emerald City, Apple itself is hardly the best thing about Macworld. As my husband, John C. Welch (the “C” stands for “Colorful and Not Very Shy”), pointed out so well, there’s so much going on at Macworld that people forget about because they think that the only reason to go is to hear the Keynote and be razzle-dazzled by Steve Jobs’s latest Cool New Thing.

There are classes on everything from learning how to make the most of your network, to running a leaner operating system to how to make Photoshop leap through hoops of flame and stand on its head. There are tiny booths filled with small companies that you’d never hear about online but who make Cool New Things of their own that will make your life easier in hundreds of tiny ways. From the people at TypeIt4Me (who have one of the best text expanders on the planet), to the people at SmileOnMyMac (creators of the award winning PDFPen), to the folks at Twitterific (who have made my life slightly less productive, but also allowed me to network with people in my field all over the globe)—it’s the people who do cool stuff on a daily basis that really make Macworld special, and who get panned as worthless if Apple decides to close itself up in its brushed aluminum tower and refuse to come out.

With all the bullshit flying around about how this is the End of Macworld, I find it a real shame that so many people have bought into the flaming head that is Apple and forgotten to take a look at what makes Macworld really important. If all you’re interested in is the chance to see the wizard, then yes, Macworld isn’t for you. But if you’re at all interested in how to USE your computer, or any of the many products that are available for that computer, to make your life easier or more productive, or to get an edge in your professional field then Macworld is the place to be. Not CES which is nothing more than a marketing orgy, or WWDC which, lets face it, is for the people who make the cool shit to go speak geek and make more cool shit—Macworld is the place for people who want the opportunity to learn how to use their gadgets to make their lives a little better, a little easier.

It’s also the place to go to see how all of the wizard’s gadgets are being put to use by other people in hundreds of different ways: from digital art and photography, to scrapbooking and archiving, to writing novels and screenplays, to just about any career field you can imagine. All of it is here, in the Moscone, open to the public once a year (for a reasonable entry fee) so they can be inspired and learn. Those in the know travel from all over the world to be there—not for the smoke and mirrors of the Keynote—but for the chance to interact face to face with the people who develop and use all these little (or not so little) products.

I hope that now that the curtains have been pulled aside and we’ve had a glimpse at how human Apple really is, that Macworld can be appreciated for what it really is: something better than just a trade showcase for Apple. I hope that next year the people there are little wiser and ready to experience everything that Macworld has to offer. Why stand in line overnight in San Francisco in early January for a stage show when the really cool stuff is behind all the other doors? In my opinion, it’s easier to appreciate what’s all around you, has always been all around you, when you no longer have smoke in your eyes.

Pay no attention to that man behind behind the curtain?

Okay. He’s not who I came to see anyway.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a journalist. I don’t pretend to be a journalist. Or a media blogger or anything like that. All of this is merely my opinion. This is my third Macworld and the one I was looking forward to the most. So far I’ve not been disappointed at all. (And for the record, I always sleep in on Keynote days.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2009 9:48 pm

    I love the Wizard of Oz analogy! I recently bought a Mac, not because I thought Steve was God or Bill was Satan, but because I used Windows Vista for several months, then I used OS 10.5 Leopard for a couple of days and then thought “Wow! This is more like it.”
    I would like to make it to Macworld to see all of the cool stuff. I think the keynote would be interesting, but I am with you, how could you ignore all of that cool stuff in one location?

  2. January 12, 2009 4:29 pm

    I love your take on the whole thing! And I agree that if Steve had presented the same products, the muted reaction (mine included, I hate to admit) would have been far more exuberant.

    And as your second film clip illustrates (great choice), it is all about the circus. As with most of these things, it was the stuff that happened off the show floor that was most memorable (like having lunch with you and John and the YML crew). The Expo was a blast and a great place to see cool stuff and meet people, but you get to talk to those people — those who have booths and those that just visit — afterwards, and for me, that’s the real value.

    But then, I guess I have to approach it from a different angle. I wasn’t able to go to sessions or anything because I was there to “cover” the show. But I totally agree that Apple is ultimately a tiny part of what makes Macworld Macworld. We’ll just have to see how many people will come when the Wizard isn’t around.

    Sometimes the smoke and mirrors are necessary in order to travel via a Horse of a Different Color and get a makeover by the Emerald City style girls. Or am I taking the analogy too far? 😉

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