from Dean Meyers

25 years later: Macintosh, metaphors and the mouse

The Macintosh computer turns 25 year old

The Macintosh computer turns 25 year old - an early print ad

A blog post on requested stories from those who were around in 1984 for the release of the Macintosh computer. At that time, I was the Sales and Tech Representative for Apple Computer for the Caribbean Region. Most of my job entailed introducing the new technology to both sales people and perspective customers.

First single-button mouse

First single-button mouse

Although we are all used to all kinds of input devices now, navigating with a mouse was actually pretty daunting for a lot of people at the time. Basic navigation with a mouse involves a kind of eye-hand coordination which, in 1984, was completely novel even for kids, who were using keyboards with up-down-left-right arrows to play games.

Visualization of mouse/GUI navigation

Visualization of mouse/GUI navigation

I spent a lot of time teaching the new Macintosh interface to adults, particularly school teachers and educators. The number one question was always, “What happens when I run out of room on my desk to move the mouse?” My routine answer was “lift the mouse, move your hand, lower the mouse back to the desk and move it again”. If experienced mousers think that sounds clunky, I assure you that it just befuddled grade-school teachers who spent most of the day with chalk or pen in hand.

I thought about how to break down the actions into something familiar: Lift, move, lower, move. Lift, move, lower…brush. I found the answer!

slide7The size and shape of a mouse wasn’t much different from that of  a brush. Most of us learn to use a hair brush as children, when we are first developing gross motor skills. Now I had found my common, real-world example of how to move the mouse to get around the screen based on something most people already know.  I could answer the “running out of room to navigate on the desk” question before it came up.


That Macintosh way of thinking, using visual/experiencial metaphors for everyday applications, has stuck with me since that lightbulb went off in my head 25 years ago. Is all of life just a GUI? Tell me your stories about making the leap of explaining the unfamiliar by using common experience.

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January 2009