Cat-lovers, Dog-lovers, and Computer Platforms

1999: A topic of enduring fascination for me is trying to analyze why people form polarized opinions and affinities about things. Why are some people liberals and others conservative? Why do some people like Chevies and others prefer Fords? Why do some like the toilet paper to unroll from the top while others adamantly insist that it should emerge from the bottom?

Then there are cat people, dog people, and a small minority who are both. I am definitely in the first category, as is MacOpinion columnist John Martellaro, who affirms in his latest Utopia Planetia column on MacOpinion, “I’m a cat person. Totally, thoroughly, and completely smitten by cats.”

Which explains the column’s title, The Cat Who Loved Macintoshes.

Like me, John admires cats largely “because they are so darned independent.” He notes, for instance, that no cat would stay put in the back of a pickup truck stopped at a red light.

“Cats do their own thing,” says John. “So when they decide to hang around and love you, it’s really cool.” Actually, I had never thought about it that way, although I suspect that if you stopped feeding them, they would quickly find somewhere else to hang around.

Personality Types

John says that the key to understanding cats is the Myers-Briggs personality test for humans, specifically the Intuitive-Sensing part. An “intuitive” person draws his values from within; tends to live in his own world and tends to make up his own rules. Artists and scientists are often strong Intuitive types, John notes.

On the other hand, “sensing” people depend on drawing values from the outside world. They tend to look to others for rules of life. Salespeople and entertainers are often strong sensing types, says John.

Intuitive types are temperamentally disinclined to follow the crowd. “While his classmates in school are decisively engaged in music, dating, makeup, and sports,” says John, “the intuitive type might take a strong interest in opera or fencing.”

By contrast, “the sensing type can hardly stand to be singled out and isolated from the group. The sensing personality will do anything to fit in and be part of the group. The values of the group become their own.”

Ergo, John deduces, cats are intuitive types, and cat fanciers tend to be as well, while dogs are sensing types, and the dog enthusiasts, in John’s experience, are inclined to enjoy having a pet that behaves subserviently to them. I think this is a fair and generally accurate analysis. My daughter, for instance, is in the rarified group that likes both cats and dogs, and her personality is also an interesting mix of intuitive and sensing traits.

Personality Types and Computers

Think Different poster, Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog“So what does this have to do with computers?” you may be asking. Well, as John puts it, the Myers-Briggs analysis applies to computer platforms as well. “It’s possible to see how the tendency to go along with the crowd could very well apply to PC users. while the tendency to ‘be different’ could very well apply to Macintosh users,” he says.

Mac Users and Cat Owners

This would go some distance toward explaining why many PC people think Mac people are arrogant. “We aren’t really,” John says, “we’re just annoyingly independent . . . Like cats.”

Hmmmm. I have always been casually puzzled as to why there always seemed to be more dog people than cat people, much the same as I have been really puzzled as to why there are more PC people than Mac people. The herd-following vs. independent analysis has, of course, occurred to me before, but this cat-dog thing helps highlight it.

Something John didn’t address in his column is the aggravation factor. Dog people seem to be relatively unbothered by all the annoying things that dogs do like slobbering, barking, jumping up on things and people, intimidating visitors and passers-by, chasing cars, pooping on the lawn or sidewalk and never cleaning up after themselves, and the way they smell. Dogs are also high-maintenance pets, demanding to be taken for walks and requiring frequent baths.

These egregious aspects of dog-ownership are roughly analogous to what PC-users live with on a day-to-day basis, things like driver conflicts, configuration hassles, hard system crashes, frequent system and application reinstalls, tech support calls, worrying about viruses, etcetera and so on. Something as simple (for Mac users, anyway) as adding a peripheral device might take days and days.

Cats are quiet, tend to ignore and avoid strangers, never chase cars, discreetly bury their poop, keep themselves clean (ever try to bathe a cat? – don’t, unless you’re wearing chainmail armor), don’t have significant body odor, usually don’t drool unless they are sick (which they rarely are), and take themselves for walks, thank you. More like a Mac.

As John notes, if his theory holds water, “then the Macintosh versus PC religious war relates strongly to the polarity of one of the most basic human personality traits . . . it may very well be that our purchase decisions are really driven by our fundamental human nature,” although he hastens to note that the theory is not complete because the ratio of sensing to intuitive types is not nearly 9:1, so it doesn’t entirely explain why PCs represent 90% of personal computer sales.

He proposes several non-animal related reasons that may explain this.

However, he says he still can’t help feeling when watches a dog in the back of a pickup truck jumping around but never, never jumping out, that “there may be something about human nature that either leads us towards following the madding crowd . . . or sailing off beyond the sunset – that Mac users don’t simply choose to Think Different,” but are different. Fundamentally.