Infinite Loop 8: “Serious Play.”

On July 6, 2000, in Features, by David K Schultz

I cannot say that all Wintel users
are obnoxious. After all, my wife works on them,
and in the interests of family harmony I will
resist such generalizations. (Though I hasten
to add that she is a forced user at work, and
not a true lover, of Wintels.) But there are obnoxious
ones out there. I speak from experience. I knew
a person several years ago with whom I had very
little in common, although chance had thrown us
together on a committee. As the President of this
committee it was my job to keep it in line, and
give it a sense of direction. He didn’t like this,
and appeared to choose my Mac loyalty as the method
by which he would question my authority, being
the passive-aggressive type that he was. His favorite
line was, “So you own a Macintoy.” You know the
point of course: The Mac is a toy and not a real
computer, it is not a real machine. But if you
think about it, this claim is actually a complement.

Why is this claim is supposed to
be slander? To see, ask, “What is a “toy”?” Literally,
a toy is something children play with. So the
slander is two-fold if you think about it. When
someone says to you, “The Mac is a toy,” you should
understand him as making the following two claims.
First, that YOU are a child; you are immature
for using a Mac. This is a very personal put down
to say the least. If you were to grow up then
you might, once the scales fell off your eyes,
see the error of your ways, and you would put
away childish things, like the Mac itself. Grown
ups, the up-shot is, use Wintels. Second, the
slander is that the Mac is a plaything; it is
not a serious tool, it is not a real machine.
Real men, the complainant is saying to you, use
Wintels.

This literal claim is now laden
with symbolic meaning. Consider the nuances of
“child” and “grown up.” A child is someone who
cannot think for himself; he is not independent;
he is not serious; he is not able to perform productive
work. The symbolism is obvious: Those who use
a Mac cannot (and I have heard it put several
ways), build his own computer, program his own
machine, get “inside of it” to tweak it, and so
on. In a word, one who uses a Mac is one who must
have another do all the important things for him.
The Mac is simple to use only because, they believe,
it is made for simple minds. A grown up (read
Wintel user) is just the opposite of these: She
is someone who can do all these things, and can
stand on his own two computer feet. You need training
wheels, but he does not. When someone says “The
Mac is a toy” this is what he is saying about
you, and this is what he is saying about the Mac.
That’s the way it is with some Wintel users.

Now think of the nuances of “toy.”
A toy, if it is anything, lacks seriousness. It
does not allow one to get work done. Imagine having
to tighten a screw and you pick up your child’s
plastic screwdriver. You will fail in your task.
You pick up a toy not to get any work done. No.
A toy is a diversion from work; if you want to
be unproductive then you pick up a toy and waste
time. Or, you play with it, which is not always
a waste of time. That is all a Mac is good for.
If you want to do serious work, then you should
use a Wintel box. So this is the claim the Wintel
lover makes.

And we thank him. You have to get
inside the mind of the Wintel lover at this point
(as much of a horror as that is), to see the hidden
meaning behind the insult. Or rather, you have
to interpret his behavior in light of his subconscious
motivations and frustrations. The slander is actually
an expression of frustration with Wintels rather
than a Mac insult. Isn’t this obvious? When you
consider the Freudian sub-text of the complaint
it is really an expression of Wintel dissatisfaction;
and the louder they make it, the more dissatisfaction
and anger they have sublimated. This sublimated
anger and frustration is repressed and then expressed
in all kinds of fascinating ways, if you watch
closely. They “accidentally” crash their machines
so they to not have to deal with them. So is it
any wonder so many Wintel users are depressed?
After all, said Freud, “depression is anger turned
in side out.” They know they cannot express their
anger outright because too many Wintel mores stand
in wait to put them back in line; rather than
face the threat from the societal mobs they attack
the Mac as a toy. When someone claims, in keeping
with this Freudian interpretation, “The Mac is
a toy” what he is actually saying is, “At least
you can play and have fun with your machine; I
can do neither on any Wintel.” In fact, they feel
guilty having fun with a computer; they have been
programmed (the user not the computer), not to
enjoy their machine. It is for work. Why do you
think games are so popular among Wintel users?
It at least makes the thing fun, or as fun as
it can be. So they try, they try to enjoy the
Wintel experience. But when thy do it feels incestuous,
because a Wintel isn’t meant for it. That’s where
the Mac stands out: It looks fun and it is fun,
and they resent it. Insults such as my friend
made, “Macintoy,” are simply defense mechanisms
designed to help them forget their pitiful situation.
If Freud were alive today, he might call this
“Mac envy.” Or better yet, sublimated Wintel frustration
repressed through defense mechanisms issuing in
passive-aggressive behavior and rudeness.

As I was Apple detailing at a local
store a few weeks ago, a salesperson said to me,
as we stood next to a blueberry iMac, “They’re
cool. They look like toys.” The positive tone
of his statement suddenly hit me: “Yes, it does
look like a toy. And thank god for it.” And now
the real meaning of “toy” presents itself to us.
Think of the many ways we use the word “toy” and
you will see why the Mac is one and why that is
such a good thing. When a friend bought a new
car, we kidded him about his new “toy”; some say
that the new Pismo we got, or the Palm III we
have, are our “toys”; there are commercials about
electronics being “grown up toys.” All these uses
of “toy” contain the meaning of something fun,
or playfulness. The language of sex, for us adults,
is filled with this same playfulness and fun:
It is how adults play, among other ways. (Is this
the Mac mystique?) The Mac is a toy because it’s
fun and even playful; and it looks fun. The recent
hardware designs of Apple have only re-enforced
this playfulness. They make everything we do with
them fun, or at least more enjoyable. They can
take a thankless task and turn it into something
we enjoy; it can take something we have to do,
something we must do, and make it something we
want to do. In fact, we might look for excuses
to work if that means spending time on our Mac.
I know that is how it is with our new Pismo.

I was on a forum today and someone
made this comment: “This powerbook is my main
work and play computer, the only problem is I
bring my work home with me every day…then again
I also bring my play to work with me.” I love
this comment! There is some concern about whether
the proliferation of technology isn’t breaking
down the barriers between work and home, and whether
this is a bad thing. I do not think it is good
myself. But the comment this person made not only
suggests that work and home are being blurred,
so, if one uses a Mac, are work and play. If the
Mac can make work play, then I can live with that.
How many people, after all, do not enjoy their
work? How many people, everyday, must force themselves
out of bed to go to work? Work is synonymous with
labor for them. But if in a small way a colorful
machine and clean interface can turn labor to
play, then that is a good thing (at least if one
is not a Marxist!).

Consider also: You will find
some Mac authors making the following statement
(or at least I have from time to time): Have you
ever heard a Wintel user say he loves his machine?
The implicit answer is no. If they have a love-hate
relationship with their machines, then it is more
hate than love. I have heard Wintel users say
they love their machines (meaning “really enjoy”),
though I often think it is for my, a Mac user’s,
benefit rather than the truth. But there is no
doubt that many love their Macs, becoming almost
pathologically attached to them. We call it “applelust.”
But maybe there is something else here. If in
fact Macs make work play and labor fun, if they
are playful, if they do connect us in some deep
way to our youth when play was okay, is it any
wonder people love these things?

And I think it was John Martellaro
who wrote an article many months ago about the
difference bringing Macs into an office environment
made. The playful look brightened up everyone,
and made them more productive. Is this any surprise?
Think about it. If in fact Macs look and feel
fun and playful, then imagine what they do for
the user. Obvious answer: It makes him feel young
again, when playing was okay, and even encouraged.
What could be a better boon to being productive
than this? Now I could at this point talk about
how Mac servers using WebStar were less susceptible
to hacker attacks on US Army sites than Windows
machines; I could talk about how graphics pros
overwhelmingly use Mac (pros, I said, not children);
I could talk about how much more stable Macs are
than Windows machines. I could, in a word, show
how Macs have synthesized work and serious play.
But I won’t. Too many Mac users know it already;
too many Wintel users won’t get it. Nonetheless,
if any Wintel lovers want to call the, one, two,
three, four Macs we have here at home “toys” that
is fine with me. Now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna
go play . . . no, work . . . I mean play . . .
I mean both.

David
Schultz

 

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