Infinite Loop 6: “Appearance and Reality on the Mac Web.”

Bridging the gap between appearance
and reality, and escaping skepticism, have never
been easy. It is one of the perennial issues
in philosophy. Trying to bridge the gap in a
new way was Plato’s
great philosophical achievement. Consider a
stick in water. Perception (what we actually
see) tells us one thing, but it is wrong, namely
that the stick is bent. Reason and memory, on
the other hand, tell us something else, which
is correct, namely, that the stick is still
straight; it only appears bent. So Plato
tells us the way to bridge the appearance-reality
gap is through the proper application of calm
and considered reason. Reason trumps perception
in epistemic conflicts. Perhaps it is time for
the Mac Web to take Plato’s advice. First, a
little background . . .

Appearances are the way things seem
to be but are not. Reality is as it is.
It is a distinction which has worried philosophers
for centuries. After Heraclitus,
who said that the world appears unchanging and
stable, but in reality is in constant flux, philosophers
developed the following worries: What happens
if we confuse appearances with reality? What if
we cannot bridge the epistemic gap between the
way the world appears and the way it really is?
What happens, for example, if what appears morally
right is in fact morally wrong? Some, believing
the gap cannot be bridged, resigned themselves
to “living by appearances.” And so skepticism,
the view that we have no way to bridge the appearance-reality
gap, was born. It is a philosophical problem we
live with even today.

The distinction between appearance
and reality is a very simple distinction. Examples
of it are obvious to all. Consider: A stick appears
bent in water but in reality it is straight; a
white wall appears blue under a blue a light but
in reality is white; a painting appears to have
depth and dimension but in reality it is flat.
Abstraction from this is easy: The world appears
Euclidean but in reality, Einstein tells us, it
is non-Euclidean. Go a head, look around you right
now. Find things which appear to you one way but
you know in fact not that way at all. See? It’s
all around us. It is a pervasive problem. And
philosophers love pervasive problems. Now it might
surprise you to know that it even shows up at
Apple and on the Mac Web.

Rumor Mills

The problem is seen, first
of all, on so called “rumor sites.” They are,
to put it frankly, the Jerry Springers of the
Mac Web. (“Tonight on FalseMacRumors.Com: Lesbian
Couples Who Cheat on Each Other and Have the Inside
Scoop on the Pismo and Apple-Branded Palm.”) These
sites endlessly try to bridge the appearance-reality
gap at Apple. More often than not, in fact almost
all of the time, they fail. The appearance is
the rumor; the reality is their predictive failures
and Apple’s actual strategies. Case in point:
The SF Macworld Expo and the Pismo. Everyone,
including this author, were tricked by the rumor
mills about the Pismo. In case you don’t know,
the Pismo is the next generation PowerBook. Everyone
was sure it was going to be announced at the Expo
in January. It wasn’t. But more than that: AppleInsider
also claimed
, falsely, that Mystic, the dual-processor
G4 was going to be announced at the Expo. It wasn’t.
They claimed the 17 inch iMac would, according
to AppleInsider,”
surprise the crowd
” at the Expo. It didn’t.
And then there is the article, “Mac
OS 9.0.1 to appear in January
.” Well . . .
it s February and no 9.0.1. Need I go on?

These sites may have their successes.
But they are few and far in between. But then
again it depends on what you mean by “success.”
Most of what they publish is after-the-fact articles:
Something happens, say a month ago. Few know about
it. They announce it will happen in a day. The
next day they show how it happened and so were
right! The Apple “rebranding” is a case in point.
Pathetic. Moreover, some sites are writing articles
about why there was delay of the Pismo, that Steve
Jobs seemed a bit “off-script,” and this is because
of the last minute Pismo pull. The simple fact
is that we do not know and so skepticism is the
rational response.

I noticed something interesting
after the failures of the predictions at the Expo:
I began to doubt Apple and Steve Jobs. Not that
they are forever beyond doubt, mind you. But I
was so sure the rumors were true that when they
failed to actualize I was disappointed in Apple.
“In Apple?” I asked myself. Herein lies
one troubling after effect of the rumor mills’
errors; We doubt Apple. I soon realized that in
fact I needed to doubt AppleInsider and all the
other Jerry Springer sites out there. Now multiply
this by the thousands who followed the rumors
and you get the picture: Thousands who are doubting
Apple. Indeed, Steve Jobs hates these sites (so
do we), and he is right, they hurt Apple by raising
false expectations which are later dashed. This
causes confusion in the consumer community and
Mac devotees become suspicious of their pet company.
This spreads to stores where shoppers are told
that Apple “failed to deliver” on something
no one really knows they planned to deliver in
the first place. The sale is gone. (And it is
never the rumor mill’s fault, mind you.) So the
simple fact is: Rumor sites hurt Apple, plain
and simple.

The problem with rumor sites is
obvious (to put it technically, as a philosopher
that is): Their claims are not falsifiable. That
is, they are stated in such a way that there is
no way to tell if they are satisfied or not. (You
know, like astrology and fortune cookies.) In
other words, there is rarely a way to show that
they are false. So, for example, it is not correct
to say that the Pismo rumor was “false.” Oh, no,
it was right. It wasn’t false. They say: “There
was a last minute glitch. Just look at how Jobs
acted, and . . . . blah, blah, blah.” Think you
can imagine a world in which the rumor was false?
Think again. Rumors are like concept of “God”:
It is in fact difficult to conceive of a situation
which would count as evidence against his/its
existence. And then there is the fact that Apple
loves to publish disinformation, bunny trails
for rumor sites to follow while they go about
their business. The healthy philosophical response
to all rumor sites is simple: Skepticism.
That is, doubt them regularly,
doubt them severely, and doubt them with extreme
. We the rational wish to live
by reason and follow Plato’s advice while the
rumor mills blindly seek reality in Plato’s cave.

OS X and Appearance verses Reality

Case #2: OS X. The appearance-reality
gap shows up in OS X as well. And it has caused
some problems. Not to put too fine a point on
it, some silly writing on the Mac Web has resulted
from it. The problem? The problem is that it appears
consumeristic, but in reality is very “pro.”

Notice the candy-like interface,
the fluid new Finder. All very simple, all very
elegant. The problem? It looks too simple and
fanciful. It appears like something an AOL-using
newbie would like. It just looks too playful.
I mean really, gumdrop buttons? Fanciful windows?
An almost playpen environment? It all adds up
to one thing: Apple has become a consumer company.
On the surface OS X appears very consumer-like;
it doesn’t look “professional,” whatever that
means. But when we take this appearance for reality
we get into trouble.

Under the hood, in reality, we
have a UNIX model (some say it is UNIX in fact).
We have Carbon, a revolutionary way to port applications.
We have Cocoa, a Java-like program language and
environment. This will help pros and consumers
alike. Want a simple application to sort emails
on a server? Do it in Cocoa. Want a simple desktop
calculator for scientific equations only you use
daily? Write it in Cocoa. And then there is the
“Classic” the environment in which we can run
pre-OS X applications minus memory protection
and Aqua. There is QuickTime, OpenGL and Quartz,
all geared towards the professional user, though
the consumer benefits as well. (See more info
at Apple’s
.) The candy-like appearance hides the
reality of a robust computer shell. Those who
claim Apple has become, or is becoming, a consumer
company because of how OS X appears might
be the ones who think Madame Marie Curie, the
physics 1903 Nobel laureate, was just a “babe.”
This OS is no dumb blonde; she is beautiful and
smart. One just has to think around and through
the beauty to see it.

There has been a lot of talk on
the Mac web about whether Apple has become a consumer
company. Many find this state of affairs saddening
to the Mac faithful. Is Apple really now the company
of mini vans, cell phones and soccer moms? What
about the power user? The artists? The designers?
What about the unique, albeit a bit off tilt,
Mac hippie? What about the Mac user group member?
Are we feeling threatened by these new users?
Is this just a stage middle-aged authors go through?

Apple has not left the power users
behind. Apple is not aiming at the lowest common
denominator. Apple is not “becoming Microsoft,”
as one article put it. Apple is not becoming a
consumer company. I am saying this because Apple
has always been a consumer company and so it cannot,
obviously, become one! That was the whole point
of the first Macs-to make a computer, as Apple
said, “for the rest of us.” Back then, “for the
rest of us” meant “those who don t know all the
hardware details and command line languages.”
Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that what
we mean today by “consumer”?

The pejorative use of “consumer”
is itself interesting. It is like “newbie.” (I
do not like the word “newbie” because it has acquired
a condescending tone. How about just, “new users”?)
“Consumer” has taken on some negative meaning
on the Mac web. “Consumer” seems to mean “someone
who doesn’t appreciate the Mac the way it should
be appreciated.” It means a Mac user who is not
also a Mac Fanatic. He reads Fortune not
MacAddict. I suppose this is pejorative
also because it describes so many Wintel users:
They are just users/consumers not fanatics and
loyalists. They are the common person. Perhaps
the Mac community’s distrust of all things Wintel
has caused it to look with suspicion on the new
Mac users. They come from the same social classes
and suburbs, after all.

But why is this a bad thing? Consider:
When I listen to a symphony, say by Mozart, I
do not understand all the technical ins-and-outs
of the music. But I appreciate it. Why? Because
I am not distracted by the technical aspects of
the music. Now these new Apple “consumers” are
like me when I listen to music. And this is the
whole point of the Mac. They may not have “GETAMAC”
license plates, or read MacWorld, or even
know who Steve Jobs is. But at this point I ask
that most important of philosophical questions:
“So what?”
We at welcome all
new Mac users. The more the merrier. We will take
their hand and introduce them to the good of the
Mac web, Mac magazines, and other things Apple;
we will tell the history of the company and explain
the beauty of the Mac thing we have. We will show
them that core Mac users are happy to share our
applelust with them.
Who knows, maybe at some point they will turn
into true applelusters themselves. Our exclusive
club is still exclusive, it’s just a bit larger.
And no matter how large it gets, it will always
be exclusive, won’t it? And the last thing we
want to do is drive people, new users, away because
we are arrogant and supercilious. I even make
it a point to go to a local computer superstore
and help just these people out, throw out the
red carpet and baptize them into the Mac family.
We should all do that. If we act arrogant and
rude, then we are no better than Wintel users
(you know, the one’s who know MS-DOS and expect
everyone else to), and we are better than that!

There are many other things which
the confusion between appearance and reality shows
up. I cannot mention them all. But one other case
of appearances confusing consumer matters is John
Martellaro. In his article “Apple
is Out of Business”
he might have been seduced
by appearances. He argues that Apple has no business
strategy and in fact has no business reputation
so that it can gain in that market. We realize
that he uses rhetorical devices such as overstatement
in this piece. And we find most of his stuff interesting,
though we do not always agree with it. And we
know Apple has long left the business sector to
others. They are not inept. Now it certainly appears
that Apple is clueless about the business customer.
But ask yourself, “How do we get a business to
change?” Easy answer; “Change the consumers who
buy there.” If Apple succeeds in changing enough
consumers to the Mac, then the business community
will follow. And what of OSX server and the G4
Server? What consumer buys these? They do have
a “Power” line as well as a “Consumer”
line, too. And Apple is targeting education and
as an educator myself, at a university, I can
say that universities are businesses too. It is
time to slow down, my dear reader. Take a deep
breath. Apple s turn around has been remarkable,
but it will not happen over night. Prudence tells
us to just wait and see. Apple knows what it is
doing. Believe me.

I could go on and on about how
appearances and reality become confused on the
Mac Web. And I might to it in future articles.
But Flatus’s counsel still stands: Use reason
to bridge the gap between appearance and reality
and invoke skepticism only at the right times.
It will be better for all of us, new users, old
users, and everyone. It takes work, but as I have
said many times, “Thinking Different is needful,
but not easy.” Think about it . .


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