Mac Musings

The Balanced Mac Life

Dan Knight - 2002.12.05 - Tip Jar

A lack of balance is a bad thing. In the physical world, it makes you fall down. In the social world, it can lead to the same kind of thing.

The human body is a marvelous thing that generally supports itself very comfortably on two feet, balancing a hundred pounds plus of bone and muscle, making adjustments constantly. For most of us, our social lives aren't automatically self-adjusting.

Think of the Star Wars guy who drones on endlessly about Jedi training, the Skywalker family line, programming droids, the history of the Empire, etc. Or the fashion chick whose like totally concerned with shoes and tops and makeup and hairstyle. Or the Mac user who seems obsessed and talks of little else.

These are lives that have become unbalanced. The same can happen with our job, sports, hobbies, the pursuit of pleasure, and who knows how many other things. Instead of being part of our life, one area comes to dominate all of it.

It's not healthy. There's nothing wrong with being a geek or a football fan or a fashion diva, but there has to be more to your life than Macs, win-loss records, or style. Each is only a part of life; it should never become the overriding concern of your life.

We get caught up in crusades - save the whales, keep Macs in our schools, John Doe for President, pro-life, pro-choice. Kept in balance, that's fine. But when they define us, we've gone too far.

My personal tendency is to lose myself in mastering something, whether that's cameras in middle school, audio gear during college, or computers after that. I am a hardware geek; I make no apologies about it. It's my nature.

But that nature run amok turns me into a raving Mac drone - not a good thing. And I try to avoid that by using my computer and my skills (writing, design, photography) in other areas. One site is about digital cameras and the marriage of cameras and computers. Another celebrates the value of old PCs, especially when used with efficient operating systems. Yet another may eventually evolve into a DVD review site, time permitting. And another is a place of my research and thoughts on religion.

But balance goes beyond writing for the Internet. When I started working part-time at a camera shop a little over a year ago, I rediscovered the joy of working with the public and helping people understand technology. How do you explain programmed exposure to someone who doesn't understand apertures and shutter speeds? How do you help the novice understand the difference between fast and slow films?

I also discovered how physically and mentally exhausting a day of retailing can be. There's a reason I gave up full-time retailing long ago. As much as I enjoy working with ideas and explaining things, by nature I am an introvert, so spending so much time with so many people just drains me. I need solitude to recharge.

I really enjoy listening to NPR and thinking about the issues of the day. It's challenging. It feeds my head. And I really enjoy listening to the oldies; so much brings a smile to my face. It feeds my heart. And then there's contemporary Christian music, traditional gospel, and The Heart of Worship on Sunday mornings. These feed my soul. A diet of just one isn't balanced, but it's hard to switch when each is such a treat.

My balance point is different from yours, and that point moves as we move through life. Given the opportunity, I could spend all day at my computer and become incredibly unbalanced, a full-fledged Mac maniac. I need other activities to balance that, whether it's playing euchre online, going to a movie, working in a camera shop, or reading the latest Spider-Man comic.

The well rounded life is better than the obsessed one, and that's something we need to remind ourselves of on the Mac Web. We have a real tendency to fixate on certain issues - Macs in school, the superiority of OS X, the productivity of the classic Mac OS, the importance of AltiVec or Quartz Extreme, the best browser or word processor or desktop publishing software.

We can lose focus and forget that Macs are just really good tools, not an end in themselves. I use the Mac for writing, design, research, publishing, playing games, listening to music, organizing my thoughts, helping others. Without the productivity side of things, my TiBook may as well be a warm place for my cat to sleep.

If you spend too much time fixating on getting the most performance out of your Mac instead of simply getting the most productivity out of it, you've become obsessed. You need to step back. Performance has its place, but is the hour you invest installing that upgrade going to pay you back an hour this week? This month? This year?

Sure, there's great pleasure in having a tweaked out system, and I visit sites like Accelerate Your Mac as often as the next guy, but the goal of upgrades is having a better production machine, not just having a better machine. We're talking the difference between street rods and show cars.

Just as computers need to be balanced so a fast CPU isn't bottlenecked by a slow hard drive or too little memory, our lives need to be balanced to one aspect doesn't turn us into bores. (Remember that William Shatner piece from Saturday Night Live. "It's just a TV show. Get a life.")

This holiday season, take some time to think about your life and how you tend to become unbalanced in one way or another. Spend time with your computer - and also with family and friends. Find things that counterbalance your obsessive tendencies. For me, playing euchre with others online helps counterbalance the solitary time spent working on this website. Working with real people in a real store helps counterbalance writing for an unseen audience. Watching a bit of TV helps me get away from the computer and escape my own world for a fictional one where almost every problem is resolved inside of an hour.

And if you really do want to advocate for the Mac, you'll do a much better job of it if people view you as a relatively balanced individual who prefers the Mac instead of some kind of Mac zealot.

Whatever your reason, I hope you find some time for balance in the hectic weeks ahead.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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