Saturday, 8 June 2013

Getting it Straight About - the Apple Logo

Its strange how quickly some urban myths and common misconceptions can spread. Unfortunately, most of them are much slower to correct. One, however, seems to have corrected itself in a relatively short time – the link between the Apple computer logo and Alan Turing.

First of all, what is the connection? The tragic end to Turing’s life was caused by his homosexuality. More accurately, it was caused by British society’s attitudes to homosexuality. After Turing was arrested and convicted for gross indecency he was given a choice – imprisonment, or organo-therapy. Turing chose the latter.

Organo-therapy involved the injection and ingestion of female hormones, notably oestrogen. Research into this treatment was basic and not extensively tested. Turing became, in effect, a guinea pig. But it was also thought that it would lead to a lessening of mental activity. Having his body altered was bad enough, but Turing also had to face the reality of a stagnation in his mental capacity.

Although Turing carried on vital research, mostly into morphogenesis (the presence of mathematical patterns in nature, of which I’ll write more about in November), he became more depressed by his treatment, both medical and personal, and decided to commit suicide.

Who knows why he chose to inject an apple with cyanide and eat it. Some have suggested he got the idea from a scene in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, which he’d seen a short time beforehand. Turing was found on 8th June, 59 years ago this morning, with the half-eaten apple near his bed.

It is no wonder that the lgbt community began to link the manner of his death to the Apple logo.

The familiar Apple logo with a bite out of it first appeared in 1977. In those days of glam rock and post 60s psychedelic design the logo was originally depicted in rainbow colours (shown here), not, as Jean-Louis Gasée (former Apple executive) said “in the wrong order”, but in the correct order starting with green at the top to emphasise the green leaf. In a world of bright logos and branding this first Apple logo became an instant hit with consumers.

But why an apple? The answer comes from the company’s first logo in 1976.

In a retro design by Ronald Wayne that looks more like a Victorian bookplate than a logo, the figure of Sir Isaac Newton is shown sitting under his apple tree, a solitary apple highlighted on a branch. Newton’s famous work on rainbows automatically inspired Rob Janoff to come up with the rainbow apple (the rainbow and Newton, an asexual and probably gay-inclined man, will be mentioned again in October – my meteorology month).

The bite from the apple logo was only introduced after it was remarked that the fruit could easily be mistaken for a tomato or cherry. So the bite (nothing to do with computer bytes) was added (or was it taken away?).

The rainbow apple logo was used up to 1997, when design had moved away from psychodelia and into simpler shapes. What could be more simpler than turning the apple into monochrome.

The urban myth of Alan Turing’s death inspiring the Apple logo, although relatively short-lived, still lingers in people’s minds. So much so, that as recently as last year an apple with a bite was used on the cover of a biography of Turing. It remains one of those ironic connections between unrelated ideas that the human mind so often makes – seeing links and patterns in things that aren’t there. Turing, with his pioneering work on morphogenesis, may well have been amused.

Perhaps Turing would be even more amused by the fact that the Chief Executive Officer of Apple, Tim Cook, is an openly gay man and one of the most influential men on the planet.

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