Overthinking the Mac-Human relationship

Summary:"Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs" is a forthcoming book is expected to arrive on bookshelves (digital or otherwise) this week. The tome looks to bring with it a new level of over-the-top descriptions of computer-human interface, technological innovation and Apple's place in the tech market.

An excerpt of Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs by Brett Robinson appears in a recent post on Wired. Robinson is a U.S. marketing professor. According to the publisher, the book will reconstruct "Steve Jobs’ imagination for digital innovation in transcendent terms." 

Robinson's brief analysis in the Wired post looks at several Apple advertisements. He then riffs on what he considers to be their deep meta messages of narcissism with the computer user as well as the bonds between humans and their computing tools. He places particular emphasis on the famous Get a Mac campaign with Justin Long and John Hodgman, saying that Apple products may "possess personality traits or to reflect a particular way of thinking and processing information grants it a human likeness."

These ads rely on a metaphor that equates the human actors with the hardware and software of their respective computer systems. This biological analogy between computer parts and the human body reminds us that the metaphors that guide computer development come from our own human faculties, particularly cognition and memory.

But the reverse is also true. Our sense of self is now shaped by the technologies that are used to diagnose and repair the body. It’s easy to assume that the two actors in the “Get a Mac” campaign represent PC and Mac users, but the intent is clearly to grant the operating systems a human personality.

In the Mac narrative, differences in operating systems represent differences in cognition styles. Associating with a particular brand, then, is more than an affiliation to a name or corporate philosophy; it’s an affiliation to a way of thinking. The operating system is a metaphor for the mind.

Oy. What a bunch of hooey. Perhaps it's just as likely that Apple's marketing department at one time had a sense of humor (I'm unsure about that nowadays) and found that this funny "illness metaphor" could represent in less than 30 seconds the rather complicated subject of Windows upgrades and the hardware upgrade that almost always were necessary to run them back in the day?

However, I agree with Robinson on at least one point: the Get a Mac campaign never had users saying that they were a PC or a Mac. Hodgman and Long were actors representing the computing platforms and their differences. That was the point.

Rather, it was Microsoft that offered in 2008 an ad campaign that presented persons saying that they were PCs. The intent was to show that PC users were just folks, ordinary users, using the ordinary OS of the Wintel platform. I admit that I always found this campaign odd. After all, there are "cat people" and "dog people" but they don't say that they are cats and dogs, respectively.

These marketing campaigns certainly said something about Apple's solution approach to computing. But they also said much more about how the Windows and PC market has spent years working to become a cheap commodity, and easily interchangeable platform, one that users don't perceive any exceptional value. That isn't true with Apple customers.

Topics: Apple, Operating Systems, Windows

About

David Morgenstern has covered the Mac market and other technology segments for 20 years. In the recent past, he founded Ziff-Davis' Storage Supersite, served as news editor for Ziff Davis Internet and held several executive editorial positions at eWEEK. In the 1990s, David was editor of Ziff Davis' award-winning MacWEEK news publication a... Full Bio

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