Macs & PCs
I first encountered the tedious debates between Macs and PCs over 10 years ago, when I found myself working at an office immersed in Apple computers: I was annoyed by the arguments after the first five minutes. Now, Apple is reinvigorating that debate in it's most recent ad campaign, discussed here by Slate's Seth Stevenson.
The ad features two men, one of whom represents a Mac while the other represents a PC. As you might expect, in the little skits they perform the Mac comes out looking simple, fun, and easy-to-use. The Mac is played by Justin Long of the movie Dodgeball; the PC is played by John Hodgman. Stevenson writes:
...John Hodgman--contributor to The Daily Show and This American Life, host of an amusing lecture series, and all-around dry-wit extraordinaire. Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident. (Look at that hilariously perfect pratfall he pulls off in the spot titled "Viruses.") The ads pose a seemingly obvious question--would you rather be the laid-back young dude or the portly old dweeb?--but I found myself consistently giving the "wrong" answer: I'd much sooner associate myself with Hodgman than with Long.
This reaction is precisely the reaction of my wife, and she projected that reaction on to others just as Stevenson does: why on earth would someone trust some college kid in blue jeans over an actual grown-up? But this tells us something about the target of the commercials: all those kids with iPods who are now maybe old enough to choose their own computer, instead of using one of Dad's hand-me-downs. That these consumers are the target can be inferred from another annoying feature of the ad.
The final straw, for me, is that the spots make unconvincing claims. The one titled "Network" has a funny bit where "that new digital camera from Japan" is represented by a Japanese woman in a minidress. While Hodgman has trouble talking with the woman, Long speaks Japanese and shares giggles with her because "everything just kind of works with a Mac." Now, I happen to have a digital camera from Japan, and it works just fine with my PC. It did from the moment I connected it. Similarly, the spot titled "Out of the Box" (again, a very funny visual metaphor, with Hodgman and Long crouching in cardboard boxes) suggests that new PCs require tons of attention and alteration when you first fire them up. But I bought a new ThinkPad notebook just a few months ago, and it ran on all cylinders pretty much straight out of the gate. Why insult my intelligence by telling me something that I know isn't true?
Thank you! Finally, I see it in print. What has always been the most obnoxious feature of the great Mac/PC debate is the fact that Mac users make such grandiose claims about what their products do that PCs don't do. I have no problem accepting arguments for Macs about what actually sets them apart. Macs are very good machines for a great many purposes, but many of the claims Mac users make just don't stand up to reality. For example, working in an office with both types of machine for over 10 years, I can report that Macs in fact do not break down less than PCs, and in fact are not easier to set up. Are they worse? No. Are they troublesome in the same way as PCs? No. But they are not more reliable and easier to work with overall. Cry all you want if you think that's unfair to Macs, but I was the one in the trenches talking users through the spinning beach ball of death, so don't tell me not to trust my own eyes. Really, I don't want to hear it. /rant
Stevenson says the people who might not notice this flaw in the commercials are inexperienced computer users, but again I think they are the real targets. If you've only used computers for an iPod and a MySpace or Xanga site, then you probably don't know all the things that a good computer can do. Thus, you will be swayed by the Mac guy telling you about how well the Mac works for all the things you'd like to try, and won't know enough to realize the PC can probably do them as well as the Mac can.
But Stevenson doesn't mention the aspect of the commercial that ultimately irritated me the most: the music. In the background, they're playing nursery rhyme music. Apple is literally infantilizing their users. Those of us who cannot understand Apple's dedication to things like the one-button mouse will not be shocked by their condescending sound track.