Monday, 28 September 2009

The Mac and PC thing again

How do you argue with someone who knows and admits they're wrong? Frustrating but brilliant article by Charlie Brooker in today's guardian: - wherein he admits he realises PCs are rubbish and Macs work better, but still insists on using a PC through, I think he says, masochism.

The thing is Charlie Brooker is allowed to be contrary and counter-intuitive, it's his stock in trade to say rather extreme things in a highly entertaining way, and frequently he'll say things that he clearly doesn't mean, though in this case he means them even though he knows he's being irrational and nonsensical. The bizarre thing is the millions of other people who do exactly the same thing, without the self-knowing wit and levels of irony. People use PCs and defend PCs and rail against Macs, despite clearly knowing, and having demonstrated to them on a regular basis, that Macs work better.

I've used Macs since I was first given one in 1994, so that's 15 years of looking over PC users shoulders wondering what the hell they were messing around at. Why did anyone get a PC in the first place? The first 'Brooker' I encountered in this regard was my mate Steve (oldest school friend, Steve, we stayed in touch even though he moved hundreds of miles away, then he ended up being my office landlord for a while). Steve was, and I'm sure still is, both an early-adopter and a PC user. (Early adopter? Steve not only got Betamax, he's the person who bought a Phillips V2000 - the precursor of Betamax - and one of those VideoDisc machines, for which he only ever owned one disc, which I doubt he ever watched). And he works in computers, or certainly did from University onwards. By the time he was my landlord he was in advertising. And I had got my first Apple Mac, one of those simple beige boxes with a floppy disc drive and no internet. But it ran Quark Express and Microsoft Word and did it really quickly. And Steve would always be trying to show me things on the PC, and they'd regularly work really slowly and stop, right in the middle of his demonstration of them.

So I got a regular, reliable, drip-fed message that PCs, whenever they were called upon to do something impressive, would be unable to do them. (I know this was a by-product of Steve's over-eagerness to show you something a little prematurely, and that he was pushing the machine's ability, and no doubt he could have pulled the same negative selling trick had he been let loose on my Mac and some new piece of software which he was trying to use without reading the manual, but it had a lasting effect). His advertising company was even full to the brim with Macs. Yes, Steve would say, we have to use those because they work better. But doggedly he, alone in the company, would have a PC on his desk. (Along with that big tower-like box they have beside them. Why do PCs have those? My Macs have been all-in-one nifty unit ever since we got the helmet-shaped iMac and toilet-seat laptop nine years ago. Nine years, isn't that like 90 years in computer time?)

Meanwhile every subsequent Mac I got worked better than the last, looked nicer than the last, and when I compared notes with a PC-using friend, did more things, more easily than they could. Online - first on egroups and messageboards, then on Facebook and now on Twitter - I'd read regular rants from my fellow writers, complaining about work they'd lost through a computer crash, and cursing the names of companies like Tiny and Dell and PC World, and all I could do was try not to let out a reply of "you're not on a Mac then?", which I realise could only be aggravating, but surely not as aggravating as having a computer that stops working when you're trying to do stuff. (And when you turn PCs on, do they still give you some green letters on a black screen, like some arcade game from 1979? Or did I dream that?)

Let's be accurate here, my Macs have crashed in the past. In 1998 I had to take my black Mac Power PC back in once cos it crashed. In 2002 my toilet-seat iBook had to go back in because I'd made it crash editing a film in iMovie. And in 2004 we took the helmet-shaped iMac back in cos it crashed once. The iMac and MacBook we bought in 2005 haven't crashed yet, and I still use the old iBook for stuff. So they crash, on average, once every 3 and a bit years, or used to until 4 years ago. I'm not good with maths (you never had to be with a Mac, maybe that was another of its attractions).

So, Charlie Brooker has characterised me and my fellow Mac advocates as Christian-like evangelists, and what can I say? He has a point. It's the one area in my life where I always end up sounding smug and superior. I may not earn as much money as some people, I may not have the biggest car or the biggest house. But my computer, er, works. Oh great, now I've made even that sound trivial. Sigh.

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