When OSX Won Me Over

ñ train.jpg

The campaign for my own laptop was a constant subplot of my high school years. As senior year dwindled to a close sans computer, I looked forward to the end summer not just for college, but for my inevitable laptop. I was excited to go to Best Buy and pick out something slim and shiny – something almost as attractive as the king of aesthetics, the MacBook.

For while I sought something visually like a MacBook, an Apple computer was the last thing I actually wanted. I had grown up on Windows, at home and in school, and while I did secretly covet Macs, I wore my loyalty to PCs with pride. Macs were sleek and artistic, but I was a nerd swapping computer jokes and Monty Python references with other such nerds. Someday, I would be a 1337 h4xx0r. I couldn’t use a Mac. Those weren’t for people who did Serious Computer Things. Linux on the family computer was out of the question, so I swore my allegiance to Windows, even as I skinned my UI to look like a Mac’s.

My college laptop did surface that summer, courtesy of a generous relative. No one had consulted me during the buying process, and, to my consternation, what arrived at my house was a glossy white MacBook. I considered the box with lust and horror. Did I dare drink that wine, go down that rabbit hole, puncture that shrinkwrap? Would this change me? Would I stray from the path of the 1337 h4xx0r to worship rectangles of white plastic and everything that started with a lowercase ‘i’?

I swallowed my doubts, tore open the shrinkwrap, and unfolded the box. Cleared a space off on my desk and, in the late afternoon sun, opened the laptop and powered it on. Some spacey, aurora-like lights fanned out, the screen behind them impossibly dark. And it asked me for my name.

Shit. A familiar lump rose in my throat. My name?

My last name, weighed down by a “nonstandard” character, has always been a thorn in my side. On every class list, in every doctor’s office, on every ID card. Peña, boulder, transmuted to Pena, qué pena, what a shame. I was an Add To Dictionary expert and well-versed in “names may only include letters a-z…” error messages. While I often wished for a “normal” first name, I had never desired a different surname. I was just tired of correcting people; tired of seeing my defenseless n, sans tilde, bare and cold, on letters, lists, and name tags.

The ñ, using Windows, is Alt+0241. I had gotten used to that little dance on the num pad as I typed my name, a brief turn around the note of the n, musical line and diacritical mark echoing each other. But I had never used a Mac to write my name, and here I was; what the hell did I do?

I remembered a summer I had spent in Spain, where my last name is dirt-common and ñ gets an entire key to itself. On a typical Spanish keyboard, diactiticals are added to vowels in a two-step process; the diacritical is typed first and then, as the cursor stays put, you type the letter the diacritical will modify. Stateside, my new laptop offered no hints. I decided to start pressing buttons and see if anything happened. Function+n, Control+n, Control+Shift+n did nothing. The Command key (what the hell was Command for, anyway?)+n did nothing. Option+n came next, and a little squiggle floated into the text box. Then the n key, and there it was in its entirety: my beautiful, marginalized ñ.

This relieved me of a weight I had even forgotten that I carried. For my whole life, according to computers, my name was an oddity, an edge case. It lay out of the realm of the things you were expected to do on a computer. But now I had just written it using a factory-condition laptop, in an OS I’d never really used before. So this was what it was like for everyone else…

Successful user experience design involves putting the user at ease. And while I’ve gloried in beautiful interfaces and flows, every user experience I’ve had pales in comparison to writing my name on that summer afternoon. Want to talk about making the user feel at home? I used and loved computers for years before I came home. Before I could come home.

And for letting me come home, Apple, I thank you.


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