On Macs, choice, and the power of aesthetics

I have dreaded the following subject as an author because inevitably my wildly unpopular position on the matter will alienate the small fan base I have, and destroy any chance of growing it once my opinion has been heard. Still, I must speak for the simple reason that I can no longer be silent – this article is about the virtues of owning a Mac(intosh computer).

So I fancy myself a bit of an artist, and have the bachelor degree to go with that claim, naturally I own a Mac because they are superior graphics machines, or so I’ve heard. In all honesty however that is not why I own a Mac. My family, starting with my father, has had Macs in the house since the Apple SE became available to the public, and despite two PCs sneaking their way into my life; I have been an avid Mac user since. I use the word ‘user,’ because it sounds less provocative than ‘fan,’ or worse, ‘supporter.’ Notice that I do not particularly care if my Mac is the very best computer available to me, or even that there are comparable PCs that cost less money. Mine is not a decision based on raw computing power, compatibility, or even cost (though I am limited in that department just like most people). My decision to stay with Macs is based largely on the fact that Apple Computers Incorporated have long understood a basic fact about the personal computer that their PC counterparts have only recently begun to appreciate. Allow me to explain.

The contemporary, 21st century human spends a great deal of time staring at computer screens. Whereas a short 20 years ago computers were odd items to find prominently displayed in someone’s home, current incarnations of computers have quite literally embedded themselves into our homes, even going so far as to be integrated into other appliances. Touch screen, digital refrigerators as well as digital picture frames, there are processors in all of them a damn side more intelligent than the ‘super computers’ that landed Neil Armstrong on the moon. Living in Japan even the bathrooms brim with computing power, from heads-up-displays in the mirror to toilets that perform actions upon your person for which Western men pay a lot of money. Suffice to say, with the number of computers constantly around us, it goes to reason that we may wish some elements of design to be incorporated in them. This is the aspect of personal computers that Apple has long understood – very simply put, their computers are better looking than PCs.
Even as far back as the 1990s, Apple set an unprecedented trend in personalized computing by churning out a line of smoke-black versions of their computers in stark contrast to the then industry standard, officially named: ‘non-descript warm gray 04.’ They also came up with the original iMacs – a series of brightly colored abominations that ushered-in a new era of design for personal computers. Hell, they even beat everyone to the punch with a black PDA, the Apple Newton, long before Blackberries became a thing. It has been this level of design that has always had a profound affect on me. I am a sucker for a well-designed implement, be it digital or analog, or even a mundane object. This is the reason we find beauty in nature whose many flowers, grand vistas, and fancily-striped animals are not there for the benefit of our aesthetic cravings but are appealing in that way nonetheless. Apples – that is, the computers, not the fruit – speak to that part of our humanity. As much as the iPhone and iPod have been global sales phenomenon, more or less being responsible for the bulk of Apple’s profits, and the savior of the company as a whole, their existence is the current pinnacle of a long evolution of design. The term ‘ergonomics’ comes readily to mind when you find rather unsurprisingly that both the iPhone and the iPod fit so snugly into your hand, (replacing the fat wad of cash that was there moments before you bought it), as though it was designed to do just that. It was, exactly for that purpose, in addition to being aesthetically appealing and of course capable of doing the tasks required of it.

I know the counter arguments, I even subscribe to some of them, but I cannot allow myself to buy a PC when Apple consistently churns out machines that look sleek, professional and even – dare I say it – a bit cool. This is the curse of the artist: an abject failing within the rational part of the brain to overrule our creative side that demands things to look pretty, even when said thing is nearly twice the price of something that more or less performs the same tasks. This is why people buy Aston Martins that cost twice, three times, even five times as much as cars that out perform them in every measurable way. Astons, you see, are very pretty. Incidentally it is also the reason rich men marry dumb blondes – a brunette with a PhD in culinary arts may be a more apt choice for the kitchen, but there’s something about the aesthetic of a blonde woman that has a profound affect on a man’s ability to come to rational conclusions. It is a mistake to underestimate the power of design. Look around you, in all likelihood everything you see around you has been designed. In some cases the engineers and/or management types may have made budget cuts vis-a-vis the design department, but someone, somewhere, sat there and designed every last thing you own. Why are these people being paid to waste time and money making things look pretty? Because we care, even when we don’t particularly notice. There have been numerous studies that show babies (much like grown men actually) prefer women with pretty faces. Surely the babies are not making a rational decision. Like adults, babies are hard-wired to like pretty things. This is one of the main reason Apple still exists and hasn’t succumbed to the competition.

Side note: I think the best commercial Mac could run on television is a baby having to choose between a Mac and a PC and crawling towards the Mac. That is the kind of advertising power politicians can only dream of.

So Macs are pretty objects, which is good, because as I said we spend a lot of time looking at our computers, but for me personally it goes beyond that.

I am forever saying people need to be more discerning in their choices as consumers. People do not seem to realize that if we actually organized ourselves into a coherent group, we could drive the prices of most everything we buy down whilst driving the quality up simply by refusing to settle for ‘good enough’ when we are filling our cart at the local Wal-Mart. I realize that is a gross oversimplification of the larger issue, but the essence of what I am saying is true. Every time someone pays money for an item that could have been made better but wasn’t it lowers the bar for the companies producing those items in terms of expectation. Worse, it ruins it for the rest of us by perpetuating a deteriorating status quo. Lowest common denominator consumerism isn’t pretty, and as the world population grows and more and more of what we consume is made cheaply, and poorly in China, the proverbial bar will continue its decent into depths held to be unimaginable by previous generations. In fact, I am going to state here and now, I think that is why the molecular bonds that form our human bodies cease to be when we grow old: they give up, appalled by what the new generation is doing to the quality of the things we buy (including social security – ZING!)
I digress – Apple it seems is a company that is unwilling to compromise away the very things that I appreciate about its products. They have consistently produced high-quality products that function, look great, and do not require endless tinkering at the consumer-end. I applaud this business philosophy, and will sponsor this defiance in the face of a hostile market saturated with lowest common denominator consumers, until one of us is dead. Apple, killed by the very sickness I describe above, or me, killed by my inability to stomach it.

I do not expect people who have PCs to read these tortured words and run to the nearest Apple store. Nor do I expect people to rationalize spending twice as much money on something if they honestly don’t see the point, but then I don’t have much faith in people. This article was not written to change anyone’s mind; it was written to explain a personal opinion, and one that I hope you can learn to share.

In summation: It is not enough for a computer to be utilitarian, it must earn its place in our lives through more than computing power; it must be every bit as good looking as our Italian-leather couches, and our solid mahogany desks. It must pass the same bar as our cars, and our clothes, and our significant others – it must do more than just the job, it must do it in a manner than pleases us.

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