I Hate Computers
or, PowerPC Challenge: Day 4
This is a vent, and a ramble, less than it is a daily log about the PowerPC challenge. It probably contains complaining about problems that I put myself in. You've been warned.
Quitting the challenge?
"Amber, it's been a total of like four days. Are you really that weak to just give up now?"
Yes. Yes I am.
No, I'm not happy about it. I'm still considering playing along for the next week and a half. But I've come to realize my own limits rather quickly, and the extent to which I can stretch myself. Allow me to elaborate.
This is a very, very long post. It may not seem related to the PowerPC Challenge for almost all of it, but I promise it is.
My relationship with computers
I am a zoomer. I have never lived a life without computers, without social media, without having a constant internet to connect to.
Such is the fundamentals of my relationship with computers, and effectively, computing. My first experiences were watching Minecraft let's plays on YouTube, playing along to my own survival world while zoning out to Sonic music, and chatting with my best friends over Skype. I did all of these on a 2006 Intel iMac - a Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM, and Mac OS X 10.4.11, Tiger.
I used this machine, every day, until 2015. It never failed to do what I wanted it to. It played Minecraft, it watched YouTube, it connected to Skype so I could text and call people. When I couldn't play a newer game, I'd simply fall back on the classics - I spent more time emulating NES and Genesis than I did playing my consoles at that point.
I eventually upgraded to a prebuilt Windows machine, an HP Pavilion 500-424, which I used for about two years before finally building my own machine. In the span of two years, I had gone from a 2006 iMac to a somewhat powerful (at the time) gaming computer.
It was 2014 when I got my first phone, too. It was an old iPhone 4S, which served me rather well. But, it was unfortunately timed - right around when I got my 4S, I also got a modern PC, which set me down a path that I regret ever taking - a constant connection to the modern internet, Web 2.0.
That damn bird
Prior to getting an iPhone and a modern machine, I was relatively 'disconnected' from the world. I didn't play on many multiplayer Minecraft servers, I avoided online console games, and I only spoke to a total of like, three people over Skype. If I wasn't at my iMac, I was probably offline, or busy doing something else. I didn't actively need to be "online" all of the time, because people knew when they could reach me - and if the people trying to reach me couldn't get ahold of me online, well...they could probably just walk across the room to get my attention.
But once I started using Twitter actively in 2014, it hasn't been the same. I've been unable to fully disconnect. My Skype friends list increased from 3 to 30, and I always had it open all of the time, talking to people. I would stay up until the wee hours of the night, chatting away in Skype and Twitter DMs about Pokemon and Sonic and whatever else I was interested in, and when I wasn't at my computer, well, I was on my iPhone. All of the time.
Ultimately, by the end of 2016, My computing habits had basically done a complete 180. Instead of just listening to music, playing singleplayer games, and chatting with the occasional friend or two, limiting my usage to 2-3 hours per night, I was now playing CS:GO deathmatch for hours before bed, with a tiny slab of metal in my pocket constantly buzzing with people sending me memes and talking about whatever was on their mind.
Howling at the moon
Everyone's favorite chat app. The one that singlehandedly killed Skype, TeamSpeak, Mumble, IRC, and community forms. The one that literally everyone uses, whether you're thirteen or thirty. Whether you grew up with the Macintosh SE or the iPhone SE, you probably have a Discord account.
At the risk of sounding annoying, I was a very early adopter of Discord. I started using it very very shortly after it released to the public. I convinced my IRL friend group to switch off of Skype and instead move to the platform, which at the time was fresh, fast, and organized. It hadn't quite obtained the amount of bloat it has now, and it was a lot more simplistic in features, but it was a huge step up from the Skype setup we all had.
Discord also had the advantage of, at the time, having a fairly decent mobile app. Even on my iPhone 4S on iOS 9, it was still fairly usable, and as more and more people switched to it, it became more lively and populated, and I spent more time with it. Gone were the days of just me and a few friends in our own quiet server. It had become a fundamental part of the lives of everyone, which gives me an excuse to post this anecdote.
Intermission: story time!
Or, "The (IT Department's) Nightmare Before Christmas (Break)".
7:30 AM, December 15, 2016. Me and my friends are all sitting in Spanish class, avoiding our work by killing time on our school MacBooks, when suddenly there's a cry from a student across the room.
"Is anyone else's Spotify not opening??"
There's a hint of panic throughout the room. Students left and right trying to open Spotify, only for it to bounce once on the dock, and then delete itself. Curious, I backed up my Spotify.app to my Desktop folder and tried to open the app. Sure enough, a new error message had popped up.
"This software is a violation of the acceptable use policy (AUP)."
I thought this was incredibly strange. It was widely agreed upon that Spotify was an app that was expressly permitted by staff, and it was harder to find a laptop without than with it in that building. So why, the day before Christmas break, was it all of a sudden considered a policy violation to even open?
I got to work. I backed up my already-backed-up Spotify.app, and then started modifying what I had. I changed the Info.plist file to no longer match the "blocked" Spotify app identifier, and a minor edit to a text file later, boom - I had restored access to the Spotify client.
Giving it the lazy name of "SpotiFix" and a new, blue icon, I zipped up the app bundle and uploaded it to Dropbox. I then posted that link in a Discord server, with no permissions for users, and sent the invite link out. Within two hours, the server had over 150 members, and the lack of Spotify was no longer an issue for most people.
Until about 11:00am that day, when Discord kept throwing connection errors to anyone trying to connect to it - whether on desktop or mobile.
It was about 11:30 when the vice principal of the school showed up to my classroom, asking to pull me aside. I hadn't made it a secret that I was the one publishing the fixed app, so I knew that she knew. The hardest part of the situation was trying to keep the smirk off my face.
I was led right down to the school's tech office, a small line of students standing outside, whispering to themselves. For most, walking down the hallway with the vice principal was a walk of shame. But for me, it was hard to not feel like royalty. After all, I gave the people what they wanted - access to a vast library of music to stream at their fingertips.
I was grilled by the tech supervisor for about fifteen minutes. They asked about why I made SpotiFix, and in turn I asked why they blocked Spotify. They cited "battery concerns" (which was and still is total BS). They asked if I was aware the problems I had caused. I said no, because after all, what problems were there to cause?
The answer to this, was causing massive uproar among the student body. In an attempt to shut down the sharing of SpotiFix, they blocked Discord network-wide. Students and teachers both were not happy with the current state of technological affairs at that school that day. Apparently, the tech department had gotten nonstop complaints about Discord and Spotify all day since the decision was made. They asked me to turn in my school laptop, which I reluctantly agreed to, and I walked out of the office.
Fifteen minutes later, access to both Spotify and Discord was fully restored.
This was the extent of Discord's importance at the time - blocking it completely prevented an entire student body from functioning.
Okay, fun story time over. Back to the shitty stuff.
Imagining a place
Discord was where people lived. Whether you spent every hour of your day behind a keyboard and screen, or you were got straight A's and participated in five different sports, you and your friends were on Discord. That rang especially true for me, when in 2016 I settled in a new Pokemon community that I eventually came to moderate.
I devoted practically every moment of my life to this community. I loved the people, it was fun to talk about a franchise I loved, and it was a great place to be. But it meant that I became even more attached to Discord, as I made new internet friends with weird timezones.
But come 2017, the funny, quirky Skype-killer had taken over my life. When I wasn't in that Pokemon community, I was chatting in some other community about something or other. Almost all of the time spent on my phone was on Discord. I never used a computer without Discord open. (I still don't. It's open right now, as I write this.) It became integrated within my daily routine. I took notes, saved important documents, and all that stuff...in Discord.
What does this have to do with anything?
The always-online, always-available nature of Discord and Twitter has completely changed how I use computers, and what I use them for.
Even when I'm not tweeting, even when my computer is long powered off, I still have a gateway to my communication channels in my pocket. These platforms, that have both been a detriment to my mental health and a safe space to express myself and make friends, are why I stay digital. Yes, I'm an internet content creator, but why am I an internet content creator? Because I was inspired by my internet friends, who are also internet content creators.
My habits have changed since I was a dumb kid playing Minecraft on their 2006 iMac. I'm not isolated in my own world anymore, I'm constantly living with a little bit of everything, all of the time.
I don't use a computer to escape reality anymore - I use a computer to interact with reality, because the screens I sit behind are my reality.
Just log out
One of those things that is easier said than done - "just log out."
This seems like a simple solution, right? Just...stop being online. "Touch grass," as they say.
But this isn't an option for me and for many others. Services like Twitter and Reddit and Discord prey on neurodivergent people, to worm their way in and make sure you're always on their services and platforms, using dark patterns to slowly rewire the brain into turning the "user" into nothing more than a good, obedient consumer.
And you know what? It worked.
GG, internet. You win.
All of my hobbies are put into this one basket. Yeah, I fucked that up. I know. I talk with friends online. I entertain myself online. I scream into the void and log my feelings online.
And you know what? Yeah. It's a detriment to my health. It's incredibly upsetting and sad that I feel the need to be connected all of the time, reachable any hour of the day, but...well, that just is how it is. It has it's downsides, but it has it's perks, I guess.
But the problem is, you can't escape from the modern internet. It is all or nothing.
And no amount of old computers can fix this mess we all let ourselves get in.
In with the old, out with the new
There's lots to be said about the repurposing of older computers and machines, for lots of reasons. Unfortunately, I will not be going into that in this specific post, because dear god this is long enough as it is. I've been writing this for two hours.
But that brings us back to...the PowerPC challenge.
On paper, it sounds super fun and neat. "How much of your daily computing can you do on an old machine?"
The answer is, well...a lot! The community surrounding these old PPC Macs is frankly insanely impressive. There's working Discord clients, modern browsers, and some old software doesn't really age, like Photoshop CS4 or Apple Pages. I am incredibly grateful to the community preserving these programs and systems on the Macintosh Garden, and I owe a special thanks to the people developing software that bridges the gap between modern services and legacy hardware.
Of course, however, this comes with many, many compromises, including some that I frankly am unable or unwilling to make.
Just because you can...
...doesn't mean you should.
I can, in fact, do many of the things I normally do on my PowerPC iMac. But not only is it significantly harder, but in some cases, well...I probably shouldn't.
I'm incredibly privileged to have modern computers, and I am incredibly grateful for everyone who puts in the work that makes "modern" experiences possible on these aging rigs. I know many people only have these old Macs, and maybe they are or maybe they aren't happy with them. I don't know.
The question laid out for the PPC Challenge is a simple one: "can you do all of your daily computing on this old thing?"
And in my case, well...
In theory, sure. I can access Discord, I can tweet and toot, I can update my blog and make fun little designs.
But computing experiences..are greater than the sum of their parts.
Yes, I can access many of the services I rely on, but in forms limited to what I normally use. I can make designs in Photoshop CS4, but I can't do professional work with it because it doesn't work with any of my pre-existing Affinity Photo projects. Sure, I can talk to my friends on Discord, but I can't call them...and I can't play games with them, either.
It's that feeling of isolation that has taken a toll on me for the majority of the challenge. It got much worse after day 2, and I largely blame it for why I felt like doing absolutely nothing during day 3.
I love my PowerPC Macs. They're little pockets of history, where I can relive some of the software and hardware experiences of the past. But that's the problem that these machines consistently face, worse and worse as time goes on.
Almost everything I use is a service. Twitter, Discord, Neocities, YouTube, Twitch...they're all services. I can use an old version of Photoshop. I can install iWork '09 on any machine and it will be the same as it is on any other Mac. But I can't do that with YouTube. I can't go back to a YouTube that is responsive on 1GB of RAM. I can't go back to a Twitter that doesn't eat my entire processor just to render.
There are workarounds...but the answer is, unfortunately, no.
I cannot do everything I need to on a PowerPC Mac.
In with the old, out with the new (web)
Hardware doesn't get better with age. Software doesn't get less intensive with age. The modern digital landscape perpetually moves forward with no regard to the devices in which it leaves behind. Eventually, developers will stop caring about how slow their website is on older hardware. Developers will stop caring about ensuring compatibility with older operating systems. Such is the way of service-based computing, which will move forward - whether we want it to, or not.
Even though in 2014, my iMac could chew through YouTube like it was nothing, now it can't even load the page on any of it's browsers. Even though I made my first Twitter account on that Mac, it is now basically unusable due to the site being so intensive.
Now imagine an even slower machine trying to do the same things.
There are plenty of workarounds and solutions that work great for people still attached to their PowerPC Macs, and that is amazing. But, for me, my entire life is built around these modern services, whether work or play. I cannot feasibly use a PowerPC Mac for everything I need in my daily life.
This is why I benchmark my site on older Macs. Those of us on the independent web, we can be conscious of this. We can make our sites easily accessible, and lightweight. We don't have to push the envelopes of performance or speed to avoid losing engagement or revenue.
This isn't reviving the "old web". This is building the new web - one that is optimized, and independent, and decentralized. Actually decentralized, not whatever the fuck those NFT shitheads are doing.
I'm a streamer first and foremost. I wrote that off before I even started the challenge, I knew I wouldn't be able to do pretty much anything for the K.O.D.A. debut on that Mac, but I wasn't really aware of how much I wouldn't be able to do...at all.
For many people, this challenge would have been a lot easier, I'm sure. For the folks that don't operate online 24/7, for the folks that are more traditionally-oriented, I'm sure this challenge is a lot easier.
I am none of those things.
As a streamer, a content creator, and someone who has built their entire life on a digital foundation...I'm sorry. The PowerPC Challenge for me has ended.
I'll still find things to use old Macs for! I love them to bits. But my workflow just isn't suitable for machines that old.
But to those of you who are participating. For those of you who use old hardware, who build the software that keeps those aging machines useful and relevant...keep up the good fight.
Corporations won't stop their endless pursuit of revenue under the guise of "innovation". It's up to us to keep computing independent and free.
I will continue to find and vouch for open-source alternatives to the services that I grip me, in the meantime.
Sorry for the wall of text. Thanks for reading.