Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Coffee. Lettuce. Get over it.

The S word is just the E word in disguise.

From a Slate magazine article comes word on Microsoft's initial foray into addressing the amusing Mac/PC ads (what kept them? I've been enjoying these ads for a couple of years now.) Nonetheless, Slate says of Microsoft's reply::
Even if they are a little saccharine, the core message of Microsoft's ads—that Apple is snooty—should resonate. That's because Apple is snooty. Here's a quote from Steve Jobs, circa the mid-1990s: "The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste." Apple's corporate identity is built on that mind-set—on its supposed underdog exclusivity, on the idea that choosing a Mac is an act of noble rebellion against the totalitarian IBM-Microsoft regime. Apple has been very successful in cementing this image. I once asked Jason Snell, the editorial director of the company that publishes Macworld magazine, about the difference between people who buy Macs and people who buy Windows. No one buys Windows, he said. There are only Mac people: people who've consciously chosen to buy a computer for its differences. Folks who use Windows didn't choose to use Windows—they don't make any decision at all. They just took what everyone else had.
Sorry? For most people, this is exactly the case.There are tons of stores where it is not possible to buy Apple hardware or software, because of Microsoft exclusivity agreements, which go beyond Mac/PC to which versions of Microsoft products may be sold. When Vista came out, for instance, I was just acquiring my current zippy new system with a brain as big as a planet. I had to go to the computer version of a guy in an alley to buy a copy of XP Pro. Future Shop had been ordered to send back all their copies to give Vista a free run.

What really caught my attention, however, was the dogwhistle term "snooty" in the article above. It's a term equivalent to "elitist" on political discourse, and thus I distrust it wherever found. It strips away the possibility that the "elite" or "snooty" thing might actually be better than, or even different from the alternative, leaving only the sneer floating in the air like the Cheshire cat's smile.

My experience with Macs is that the snootiness is well deserved. Pervasive beauty is the first thing I notice. Clean function, good security, speed and friendliness to the user are typical of the world of Mac. The keyword (as with Google in all its incarnation) is generosity.

Contrast PC's world, which can be handsome but is undercut by questionable security, huge quivering applications sitting on your hard drive like Jabba the Hutt, and formats as demanding and unreasonable as a very unreasonable thing. Oh, and they conscript their customers as frontline beta (and sometimes alpha) testers. The keyword is miserly.

But let's go back to the word "elite". It's a favorite epithet of the right wing. Why do you suppose that is? Simply, it's a multipurpose weapon in the class wars, like a Swiss Army Epithet.

It's used to scorn the tastes of others, especially others with more money than sense. Arugula! Latte! Feh. They're just fancy cabbage and strong coffee with milk, their only real elitism is their richer flavour and learning to spell them.

Much worse is the use of "elite" to short circuiting access to understanding, by scorning the learned and the experienced with their fine-grained grasp of topics which, if understood, would necessarily drive decisions in economy and social policy, among other areas.

Whose interests are served by neutering of knowledge and the raising of artificial barriers of scorn between large groups? The poor but intelligent Mac crowd versus the clueless but wealthy PCers eerily echoes the rifts between most Americans versus the true elites of the USA -- you know, the 1% or 0.1% with enough money to have arugula and fresh strawberries for breakfast and a latte maker in every guest bedroom? Tousled Mac and neurotic PC in the Apple ads differ only because of their mutual regard and even affection -- no trace of which transfers to the class conflict.

Do I mind that some people have Matterhorns of cash while most live down near sea level? Not in itself. But that so many live below sea level, is troubling.

The scorning of knowledge and division of the peoples is an ill in itself. The language changes in every generation, but the tactics of divide-and-blame and coloring book discourse are perennial, and their results predictable. One, they move benefits upwards and detriments downwards. Two, they decrease the overall wealth of the whole nation.


I'm a PC, and I'm Worried About My Image
Microsoft's $300 million campaign to prove Windows isn't lame.
By Farhad Manjoo

Posted on Slate, Monday, Sept. 29, 2008, at 4:08 PM ET

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