Tuesday, November 03, 2009


This started out as a comment on Morgan's post over here. But it got so long, I decided to post here and just link it in the comments there, so other people's comments wouldn't be shoved down to the seventh level of hell... and because it's so much about my experience it belongs here anyway.

In a sociology class in high school accessible through the Way Back machine in my brain ... I was taught a term that describes this phenomenon (the iStuff craze).

Conspicuous Consumption.

I still remember the first time I sat down in front of a MacIntosh. You know, the first PC I ever layed hands on and took a programming class in was an Apple II. It behaved a lot like the first PCs. Green screen, and the BASIC programming language.

Macintoshes came out, but I had little use for them. I used a Wordstar shell called "Easy" to write my papers, but at least as often I wrote them in Xedit on the mainframe because the PC's were very popular and the mainframe geeks who could even consider using Xedit for a word processor were fewer and farther between. Hence, free terminal.

But one day I sat down in front of a Mac in one of the student labs. I was very confused. How do you start a program on this thing, and what is this little dangly thing next to the keyboard? How do you get to a command prompt?  Seriously, I was like Scotty in that Star Trek movie, except nobody talked to computers back then.

Eventually I got the hang of it, though. And it was pretty ingenious once you realized what was going on. Except for the stupid system "bomb". Which happened a LOT. Yeah, they used to crash quite often.

They got better. At the time they couldn't be beat for graphics programs, and I even had a job for a while designing a statewide test for the Education Dept here on campus -- doing the graphics, mainly. I was always the artist in the family.

Not long after that, I got a job at the Learning Center, where I was an office gopher. One of my jobs was to tally up all the tutor evaluaton sheets. It took forever, because I did it with paper and pencil.

So I wrote a program in BASIC on the MacIntosh to do it. Yes, there was actually a BASIC interpreter on the MacIntosh.

When I was hired full-time in the computing department, my MacIntosh experience was the justification they used to the higher-ups to hire me.

But I was also well-versed in PC software, had used RBase and DBase, and knew CMS on the mainframe better than most.

I don't own a MacIntosh, and I never have.

It's not because I think they suck. They don't. They're great. They're also very expensive. And here's the reason we see what we see with MacIntosh owners.

They are the Mercedes, the BMW of the PC world. Yes, they're fine cars, but people buy them as much to impress their friends and family and strangers as anything else. If something goes wrong, "I just take it to the dealer."  And they pay through the nose for them. It makes them feel special. And that, as much as anything else, is what they're being sold. (Kind of like just a little over half the voters in the last presidential election.)

They are also designed for and marketed to people who aren't predisposed to trying to understand how things work in the slightest. Therefore, a complete computer illiterate can get a MacIntosh and do a lot of things that PC users do without really having to learn much.

And that's great.

Now ask yourself, what group of people -- what political herd do people who aren't predisposed to trying to understand how things work, typically belong to? What group of people are strongly attracted to symbolism over achievement? "Expert" advice as a substitute for their own judgement?

Now mind you, I don't buy PCs because they are better. I buy them because I can get twice the computer for the money, and I can open them up and slap cards from a bevvy of manufacturers ... myself ... to expand its capabilities and customize it to my liking. I have no problem with Apple. I have no problem with MacIntosh.

As an aside, most people today wouldn't recall that at first, it was MacIntoshes that had huge problems with viruses, I think because they were easier to write for Macs. But Mac was young and not married to backward compatibility like the PC world has been, and they took care of that problem for the most part, plus the PC world became a much bigger target as IBM PC "clones", as they were called in the day, outstripped Macs by leaps and bounds in the market -- due to price. Economics.

As I recall, the "i" prefix in Apple's line of products referred to "internet". I THINK it was the iBook laptop. But it might have been some desktop as well. It was to make "the internet" easy for people.  (Update: I just remembered.  "iMac")

Which, again, I'm fine with, except it's probably directly responsible for the Huffington Post.

When people found out my job was in computer support ... at parties I would go to, people asked the same question... "What's better, Mac or PC?" And my standard answer was, "It depends. What do you want to do with it, and how much money do you want to spend?" I found that in general people who probably needed a Mac didn't like that answer. They wanted an "expert" opinion on which to validate whatever decision they made.

Of course, now the "i" is practically a trademark symbol for any Apple Product. Their products are shiny, slick, cute, generally work very well... and you pay for that.

For MP3 players, I've generally had the Creative Zen line. Why? I can get twice the player for the money. That's changing some. I think the iPods are being priced more competitively these days, but they're still more expensive, more buck for your bang.

I work with conservatives and liberals alike who have iPhones. My stepson and his girlfriend have iPhones. They, like most of the rest, are liberals. iStuff is just a marker for progressivism... you can't use a single marker (indicator) to judge (I mean, hell, I wear Birkenstoks in the summertime and I listen to the Grateful Dead and all kinds of other late 60's early 70's rock). But when they start to pile up, you can get a pretty good idea. So if Melissa Clothier has an iPhone ... that's great. Have a lot of iFun with it. Of course, I don't text. I don't surf the web on my phone. I don't need "an app for that". At least not for $100 a month per phone. Do I think all that would be cool? Hell yeah.

And here's the paradox. Even though I have nothing against Apple, because iFind Apple fans annoying, if I were to decide to spend money on those services, I would strongly consider going with a competing product. And I suspect I would end up paying less for it.

related (video):  How we got the iPresident.

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