I am a Mac user. I am a die-hard Mac user.
It empowers me insofar as it transfers
the power of a Turing Machine into my hands much
more easily (a higher power-transfer-rate) than Windows
at least. I feel empowered with my Mac because it in
fact empowers me, and in this case I trust my ‘subjective’
feelings because they have objective grounding.
Passion and Loyalty
Many Mac users feel the same way. They
are all-out loyalists to the Mac. We know all the
metaphors and talk of the “Mac cult”. I think, wait,
I know, that while it can be taken to extremes, Mac
loyalty is well-grounded. Once this loyalty has bitten
you, and you succumb to the bite, there is no going
back. You become a loyalist and begin to demand the
same of others. The first thing you want to know before
you propose to your special sweetie is, “Do you use
a Mac and only a Mac?” It may not be as bad
as never using Microsoft products (I depend on Office),
but you get the point.
Some Mac users are not like this. They
use a Mac. And that is all. They are too busy to be
enraged by any platform debates. The Mac is there,
as Heidegger would say, as a “standing reserve (something
just for our use, a resouce).” Sometimes we talk of
it as a “only a tool.” They are not fanatics or loyalists,
they just like to use a Mac. Or maybe it was just
the first machine they used. But as matter of fact,
many Mac users, I would dare say, are serious about
their computer commitments.
So when a Publisher such as myself
tries to build a site for Mac users I have to think
about this. Now, granted Applelust is not just any
old Mac site. We fill a gap for thinking Mac users
and academics and technicians. (MacWrite
is doing a good job though.) Ask my writers: Applelust
is very hard site to write for because its audience
so demanding and the other writers set such high standards.
But I digress…
As a Publisher I have to consider that
my audience has serious loyalties to the Mac. This
does not mean that we fail to point out flaws with
Apple and Jobs. Reality may get distorted, but it’s
still there if we look close enough. We have taken
them to task many times. But what I have to consider
is that these flaws appear to my audience as effronteries
to their tastes and strong loyalties. It’s serious
business, they think, not just a lackluster keynote
or bug. No, it’s downright personal with them.
Loyal Mac users look for loyal Mac
sites. They want brothers and sisters not reporters.
A site had better be serious in serious readers’ minds.
Simple as that. If a loyal Mac user thinks I am just
placating him with words I would never utter under
oath, he will leave. If he thinks I am only inflaming
passions when I myself lack any passion, he will leave.
If he thinks I am being baptized just to score points
with the family, he will leave. If he thinks I take
the posture of prayer when in reality I am thinking
about the big game, he will leave. If he thinks there
is any disingenuousness on my part, he will leave.
In a word: Serious Mac users
want the people they look to for information (web
sites, ‘zines, all of it), to be as passionate and
as loyal as they are. Nothing less will do.
Why else does CNET have such a bad reputation among
many Mac users? Divided loyalties. To a die-hard loyalist
divided loyalties are no loyalty at all, in the end.
We are a Mac
Community, as I have said many times. We are of
like-mind, for the most part. We have our squabbles
and fights, but in the end we are all Mac users. We
depend on each other. We trust each other. We have immediate
fellowship when we meet. We know the secret passwords
and handshakes. We speak the same language; we know,
and sometimes believe, the same myths; we have a certain
framework we think within. We are undivided.
I have to think of this when I publish.
I know that I cannot be fake. I know that I cannot
fabricate issues (too much of that and at some point
people stop taking you seriously). In a word, genuine
Mac users want genuine Mac web sites run by genuine
Mac users. Passions run high (though not as
high as before September 11th). If they think you
have divided loyalties you immediately hurt your credibility
in a Community where credibility is measured by loyalties.
If people think I am just in for a buck, just a company,
that too is not good enough, for Apple, they think
is not just a company out to make a buck. Jobs has
a larger vision.
I have to think about this when I publish.
All my writers do. It puts us publishers and writers
in a very awkward position. “Awkward, how?” you ask?
Moral awkwardness, I answer. Seriously…
When passions run so very high, as
they do among some Mac users, people are more likely
to be manipulated. It’s a matter of probability mind
you; people don’t desire to be manipulated. I am saying
high passion opens up the possibility to a greater
degree. That means we as Mac publishers and writers
have a responsibility not to abuse that passion. In
a word, to enflame this passion to no good end is
morally questionable at best.
When the dot com bust started I wrote
that I was worried about what Mac sites would do to
make up lost revenues. Would content suffer? (Would
it suffer more, that is.) Would we see gimmicks?
Tricks to get page views? To make up for lost ad revenue
one has to get more page views. One might think more
content is the answer. It is not. Let me put it this
way: To make up for lower ad revenue, I feared that
we’d see more content of a superficial nature. Link
to anything. Talk about anything. Fabricate issues.
Get people mad. Bait people in editorials (“baititorials”
we call them). Make up anything. Reduce article size;
increase article quantity. Break articles up into
five pages so one can get more page views. Keep it
short. And lots of it. Quantity is king. Half-baked
news stories. Rumors. Degrading others. Pettiness.
Unreliability. Reactionary language. Superficial,
short articles that waste readers’ time. (And we must
be careful about wasting people’s time, because in
fact most people are at work when they read our
sites! Our logs show that high-traffic times are
between 11AM and 3PM, when people should be working!)
All are abuses of predisposed Mac passion.
Art and Technology
And you know what? All these tricks
work. Well, they will work for a while. But it can’t
last. A web site is like a piece of art: We
only know a real piece of art because it lasts, and
keeps bringing us back. I am not talking about
bringing us back this Friday or next Monday. We have
enjoyed Monet and Homer for longer than that. Art
lasts because it has depth, because there are new
truths to be discovered every time we go back to it,
because it touches something in us, because it is
universal and appeals to something high in our nature.
We call it “the test of time.” Artifacts that
pass the test are few and far in between. Obviously.
So what does this musing about art
have to do with abusing Mac passion? Let’s think about
it… Why would one simply try to arouse predisposed
passions? On the Web that is? It’s clear — page
views (i.e., revenues).
Some say Steve Jobs does the same thing
in his keynotes to get people to buy Macs. I am not
that cynical though. I think Steve Jobs is a serious
person and serious thinker, someone who truly believes
that he can make a difference in the world. He’s rich,
of course, and so doesn’t have to worry about money.
But this in no way detracts from what he might view
as his larger goals, goals larger than simply making
sure Apple survives. Apple employees I have talked
with in Cupertino, for example, share a vision that
they are out to make a difference, not just sell computers.
Now, when one manipulates the predisposed passions
of the Mac user by some of the things I spoke of above,
such as fabricating issues, arousing anger and other
emotions, then neither the product nor the result
will pass the test of time. And the test of time is
(might be?) an accurate test because it accurately
captures something in us, something in all
of us, no matter what point in history we live in.
For Homer it was homecoming (in the Odyssey),
for example. The product, in this case a Greek poem,
lasts because the theme is lasting. But a fabrication
cannot stand the test of time.
Now most editors, writers, and publishers
on the web don’t sit down each time they write and
ask themselves, “How can I write something lasting?”
They (I don’t do it consciously anyway) do not ask
themselves, “What will become of this article and
idea in 5 years?” But maybe that is not the right
question. (It’s a hard question with no clear answer.)
Though the question might not be right, the intention
of asking the question is. The intention, if what
I have said about the test of time is true, is to
find something that lasts, and something can last
only if it illustrates a lasting theme. Something
illustrates a lasting theme only if it touches us
in the ways I mentioned. It might be as simple that
the reader learns something he didn’t know before
reading. In my view, the push for page views and the
resultant products spoken of above will not pass the
test of time. People will tire of it; people will
see through it; people will find it repetitious and
finally boring. But Monet and Homer? Never.
By playing with predisposed strong
Mac passion, which is manipulation in the final analysis,
one cannot have a lasting influence. “What,” you ask,
“a lasting influence about a computer?” Yes. Why not?
The trick is to use the passion to reach beyond it,
and not arouse the passion as an end in itself. What
this means is that the great loyalties people have
for the Mac presents us with great possibilities to
teach, to grow, to reach beyond the Mac to higher
truths and universal themes, have fun, build relationships,
and nurture feelings that we are part of something
larger than ourselves that might be meaning-conferring
(Community). When people bring a predisposed passion
to the table it gives us all kinds of opportunities,
opportunities must be handled with care, but which
can form the basis of something good in the world.
If the world is a classroom and all
of us are merely students, then pedagogical rules
apply. One rule is that you have to find a “hook”
in the students to get them interested in the subject
(what William James called a “live option”), and lead
them from there to new ideas — to learning. But
if my students had the same passion for philosophy
that many Mac users have for the Mac I would be “Teacher
of the Year“. And what we can teach ranges
from rules of design to abstract metaphysical principles;
it can be a good belly laugh; it could be about justice
even. (But keep in mind what I said, “all of
us are students” if the word is a classroom.)
The Mac passion we see and deal with
as writers, editors and publishers, is at once fragile
and powerful. We must be careful with it. We must
take care not to enflame it for lesser ends. We must
use it right. And using it right means not abusing
it for lower ends or creating issues out of thin air,
or not settling down to divide people, or not wasting
a reader’s time who has taken his time to come to
your site. Our readers entrust passion to us, after
all. We must respect and not abuse that trust. Who
knows, someone’s life may be changed, and that lasts
most of all.