Macintosh Community or Cult?

Last week we looked at the symptoms; now it’s time for the diagnosis.

The last twenty years have seen a series of global shocks – the collapse of the Soviet Union, the restructuring and near collapse of the tech economy, civil war in Europe. The list goes on and on.

What has this got to do with Macs?

Hang in there, and all will become clear.

Humans are social beings – even the most strident individualist accepts that no man is an island. The political disagreements are merely about the form of our social organisation, not its content. Conservatives place more emphasis on the family, liberals on wider society-based commitments. One of the most striking, yet under-examined, phenomena in the past few decades has been the breakdown of many traditional social solidarities. Organisations from churches to trade unions, from the Boy Scouts to the Women’s Institute, have all suffered a decline in membership.

Churches are good example. I am a well known atheist, so why am I not celebrating the decline of organised religion? Well, first off all, I have no desire to forcibly impose my views on other people, but more importantly, a fall in church attendance figures does not mean society has become less interested in God. What’s actually going on is a peculiar social phenomenon. Many people, though leaving behind church, feel a spiritual need in their lives, so they have latched on to more individual forms of worship. The problem is that such personalised religion usually lacks not only the social bonding offered by religion, but also the responsibilities imposed upon us as individuals.

Now, returning to the Mac, we often hear tell of the Macintosh community. Is there actually such a thing?

The Mac, beyond being a computer, is a “lifestyle choice,” hence the title of this column, Mac Life. But exactly what is a lifestyle choice? Apart from being a favourite tautology of the tabloid press, a lifestyle is a choice. Pepsi over Coke, gourmet food over McDonald’s – these are all lifestyle choices.

The problem is that the choice is largely illusory – certainly, we can eat whichever we prefer and drink what we like, but in terms of actually making a difference to our lives, the choice is minimal.

Would using Windows really make your life so much worse? Not these days.

Windows 3.11 workspaceBack in the days of Windows 3.11, the difference between it and the Mac OS was vast, but no longer. We can, and I do, state that the Mac OS is better, more efficient, more elegant, and just more damn fun, but let’s stop pretending it’s a matter of life and death.

In the absence of a real community, we forge links to people in whatever way we can, often in ways that lack the commitment of participating in a real community. Which of us doesn’t feel a slight joy upon reading a reply to our comments on a Web forum or mailing list?

The public radio community, the Mac community, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Communities, whatever. Our new, often online, communities offer a shadow of the real social interaction which we get each day from work, from our families, and even from visits to Walmart. If there is such a thing as a Mac community, then it’s delinquent. The entry price isn’t steep – all you need is a Mac and half a brain – but the consequences could be.

Is our solidarity as Mac users more than skin deep? Could we stand, shoulder to shoulder, over anything other than the demand for more megahertz? Of course not. What else do we have in common as a group?

Certainly Mac users are a diverse group – and this is a positive thing – but this very fact precludes us from being a community in any real sense. Low End Mac is, of course, the centre of all that is good and true on the Internet, and one thing which I like about it is that the editor, Dan Knight, refers to the Mac Web. This is a good term – it illuminates, not obscures, that the online Mac community isn’t a community at all, it’s a diverse collection of websites devoted to Macs, written by a diverse collection of people.

The somewhat pejorative term, Cult of Mac is probably more appropriate than community for we Mac users.

Now, I’m not saying that we’ve all been brainwashed by the almighty Steve and will be drinking Kool Aid laced with cyanide, but to a certain degree Macism, to coin a phrase, is a totalitarian cult.

Do you never feel even a slight shiver going up your spine when, long after the event, you recollect the cheering and whooping as Jobs unveils yet another minor product at Macworld?

So what’s the solution? Should we consign our beloved Macs to the dustbin of history and sign up for that other computing cult, you know, the Redmond based one infused with the obsessive compulsive self-loathing?

Of course not, but let’s be rational about this. Macs aren’t panaceas for the ills of our societies, any more than Linux, Coke, or Mr. Muscle are.

Say this with me once or twice, and relax, it won’t hurt a bit…

Macs are just computers.

Macs are just computers.

Macs are just computers.

Next week: Jason Walsh takes a look at Mac culture in the workplace, including in graphic design, video editing, and nuclear medicine.

Keywords: #maccommunity  #cultofmac #maclife

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