Our Passion for the Mac

Computers are just tools. Like hammers are tools. Like washing machines are tools. You know it, and I’ve publicly argued it. So, there we go. That’s the end of that.

That’s the shortest article I’ve ever written.

Unfortunately, there’s a little problem with this particular thesis. If computers are just tools, then why do Mac owners do such good a PR job for Apple? Moreover, why do Mac users develop emotional attachments to their computers? What exactly is going on?

This column hopes to answer this question – or at least contribute to the debate.

Welcome to Mac Life.

In future columns I hope to address the concept of a “Mac Community,” the community of low-end users, Apple in the workplace, and much, much more. Hopefully you’ll interact with me and share your thoughts as we go along. Before we get on to any of this, let’s go back to the computer/hammer analogy.

Now, I’ve never met anyone that has an emotional relationship with a hammer. I have no doubt that such people exist, but my experience of clinical practice stops a long way short of psychiatry, so I can’t really explain the motivations of such people.

What we do often find are people who have a deep respect for their tools – good examples include Stanley blade products or in the US, I believe, John Deer lawnmowers.

The feelings people have about their Macs go a lot deeper. Perhaps it’s a bit like owning a Saab or BMW, but then again (not owning either vehicle) I’ve always suspected that, in reality, the owner just feels smug about their expensive status symbol.

Perhaps it’s the same with Macs?

Then again, maybe not. Macs aren’t any more expensive than branded PCs these days.

20th Anniversary MacSmugness does, however, seem to play a role. Having a Mac could be a bit like owning an art collection, or designer clothes. A sign of “good taste,” however we choose to define it. Certainly the stunning industrial design of the iMac, PowerBook G4, or 20th Anniversary Mac (left), combined with the build quality and attention to detail, stand for something.

I’m not totally convinced, though. SGI boxes also feature stunning industrial design – the Indy is surely a classic – and you could drop one off a cliff, and it would barely be scratched. On top of this, SGI boxes cost about ten times as much as Macs, and though there’s a community of secondhand users on the Net, it’s nothing compared to the Cult of Mac.

If snobbery was the motivation, surely the SGI community would be bigger – after all, Macs are aimed at consumers, whereas SGI workstations are much more rare.

For goodness sake, there’s a Mac publication called MacAddict! Now, I’m a smoker, and I take responsibility for my actions as an individual, but I’m not an addict. I know that their title is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a bit scary. Being an addict is a bad thing. (As an aside, isn’t the creeping medicalisation of our everyday existence, and this column, a worrying trend?)

Not only this, despite being hooked on gigaflops like maniacs on tranquilisers, many Mac users seem to wish to hark back to bygone, simpler days.

It’s fair enough for Low End Mac to feature articles on older Macs, but I’ve read – admittedly entertaining – articles on how owners of iMacs and G4s have cranked up antediluvian Macs from the mists of time. You know, the kind that require you to burn wood to get them to work.

Why is this?

A while back, Low End Mac’s resident physician, Dirk Pilat, asked if Mac users were more left-wing than their PC using comrades. Tut, tut. Something of a specious correlation and conductive reasoning, I’m afraid, dear doctor.

Overworked, as is the wont of his particular profession, Pilat was subsequently buried under a deluge of replies, including one from Charles W Moore, who is most certainly no leftist – and had a list of other rightward leaning Mac fans.

I argue that Pilat was framed! (Can we start a campaign? Free the GP One!)

He was right. Sort of. My own libertarian socialist inclinations notwithstanding, I would argue that Mac users are a bit more left-field, or to use today’s popular (and wildly inappropriate) quasi-medical parlance, right brained.

That is, Mac owners, being a minority, and one that’s rampantly infested with, allegedly “creative” types, view themselves as a bit more daring, a bit more edgy, and a bit more intelligent than Windows users.

Identity becomes bound up in our relationship with this object. We identify ourselves with it and with other users.

Are we forming a real community? Should we start a secessionist movement? Are we all suffering from a form of psychosis?

Next week: Jason Walsh looks at issues of community, individuation, and the social aspects of Mac owning.

Keywords: #cultofmac #macpassion #macaddict #maclife

Short link: http://goo.gl/SbSj54

searchword: macpassion