Wednesday, July 16, 2008

You Hate Macs? I Hate PCs.

A while ago, The Grauniad newspaper in England published a vindictive, scurrilous and unprovoked attack on Apple Mac users by a man obviously suffering from several psychological disorders. Now, Mac users do not particularly seek or invite such abuse – we are more than happy to be left alone to get with the higher cerebral cortex functions that make us tick – and we certainly do not make such unwarranted assaults on PC users. We normally don't bother attempting to reply either, but this time Elroy has had enough. Please, take in Charlie Booker's ill-considered savaging and then savour Elroy's erudite and comprehensive demolition of same.

I Hate Macs
By Charlie Booker.

Unless you have been walking around with your eyes closed, and your head encased in a block of concrete, with a blindfold tied round it, in the dark - unless you have been doing that, you surely can't have failed to notice the current Apple Macintosh campaign starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb, which has taken over magazines, newspapers and the internet in a series of brutal coordinated attacks aimed at causing massive loss of resistance. While I don't have anything against shameless promotion per se (after all, within these very brackets I'm promoting my own BBC4 show, which starts tonight at 10pm), there is something infuriating about this particular blitz. In the ads, Webb plays a Mac while Mitchell adopts the mantle of a PC. We know this because they say so right at the start of the ad.

"Hello, I'm a Mac," says Webb.

"And I'm a PC," adds Mitchell.

They then perform a small comic vignette aimed at highlighting the differences between the two computers. So in one, the PC has a "nasty virus" that makes him sneeze like a plague victim; in another, he keeps freezing up and having to reboot. This is a subtle way of saying PCs are unreliable. Mitchell, incidentally, is wearing a nerdy, conservative suit throughout, while Webb is dressed in laid-back contemporary casual wear. This is a subtle way of saying Macs are cool.

The ads are adapted from a near-identical American campaign - the only difference is the use of Mitchell and Webb. They are a logical choice in one sense (everyone likes them), but a curious choice in another, since they are best known for the television series Peep Show - probably the best sitcom of the past five years - in which Mitchell plays a repressed, neurotic underdog, and Webb plays a selfish, self-regarding poseur. So when you see the ads, you think, "PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately lovable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers." In other words, it is a devastatingly accurate campaign.

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don't use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, "I hate Macs", and then I think, "Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?" Losing that second mouse button feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands. But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot.

Cue 10 years of nasal bleating from Mac-likers who profess to like Macs not because they are fashionable, but because "they are just better". Mac owners often sneer that kind of defence back at you when you mock their silly, posturing contraptions, because in doing so, you have inadvertently put your finger on the dark fear haunting their feeble, quivering soul - that in some sense, they are a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn't really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine. And the more deftly constructed and wittily argued their defence, the more terrified and wounded they secretly are.

Aside from crowing about sartorial differences, the adverts also make a big deal about PCs being associated with "work stuff" (Boo! Offices! Boo!), as opposed to Macs, which are apparently better at "fun stuff". How insecure is that? And how inaccurate? Better at "fun stuff", my arse. The only way to have fun with a Mac is to poke its insufferable owner in the eye. For proof, stroll into any decent games shop and cast your eye over the exhaustive range of cutting-edge computer games available exclusively for the PC, then compare that with the sort of rubbish you get on the Mac. Myst, the most pompous and boring videogame of all time, a plodding, dismal "adventure" in which you wandered around solving tedious puzzles in a rubbish magic kingdom apparently modelled on pretentious album covers, originated on the Mac in 1993. That same year, the first shoot-'em-up game, Doom, was released on the PC. This tells you all you will ever need to know about the Mac's relationship with "fun".

Ultimately the campaign's biggest flaw is that it perpetuates the notion that consumers somehow "define themselves" with the technology they choose. If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality. A mental illness, maybe - but not a personality. Of course, that hasn't stopped me slagging off Mac owners, with a series of sweeping generalisations, for the past 900 words, but that is what the ads do to PCs. Besides, that's what we PC owners are like - unreliable, idiosyncratic and gleefully unfair. And if you'll excuse me now, I feel an unexpected crash coming.

This week: Charlie watched some episodes of Larry Sanders (on his PC). He played the customised Fawlty Towers map for Counterstrike (on his PC). He listened to the Windows startup jingle every 10 minutes as his PC repeatedly rebooted itself.

However, Elroy has not let him get away with such libel. Ahem...

I Hate PCs
By Elroy

PC users don’t use Macs – they wear them. While Mac users waft around their expansive white loft conversions reading Baudelaire and Keats the PC element eke out drab little lives in their parents’ houses in Dagenham and Hull, the highlight of their miserable existence being a Saturday morning computer swap-meet where they buy arcane bits of compu-gizzards from another bespectacled lard-arses and then scurry home like fretting moles to, yet again, pull apart their long suffering odes to beige in order to make it half as fast as a Mac ten years its senior.

And it must be noted that, on that self-same Saturday morning, the Mac user is settling into his second Notting Hill ‘Latte while gazing into the adoring eyes of the very handmaiden of God whose image Mr. PC just spent three days failing to download. I guess it’s all a matter of choice.

PC users are always bleating that Macs are too expensive, but here’s a little secret: do you know how us superior beings afford our Macs? By having more productive hours in our day. And how do we achieve that? By not having our noses poked under the hood of our CPU for most of it. The savings made by not constantly buying obscure little plug-ins and other nasty little shards of silicon to make render our computers operative allows the Mac owner the luxury of seeing daylight on occasion, but it’s also true that the Mac pays for itself because of the invaluable WriteBook 1.9, a nifty app that effortlessly knocks out searing indictments of our times while one is taking a light lunch on the terrace, tomes which happily cover the cost one’s thirteenth century Tuscan monastery. Ah, the dignity of honest labour.

I hate PCs and their users because both are stubborn, righteous, boring, annoying and ugly both inside and out. They are unstable masochists who spit out the serial numbers of their SAD Pf54u364iX fatherboards along with generous amounts of spittle and last night’s Hawaiian Supreme, impotent and frustrated little drones who dare to berate me about the inadequacy of my very being because I choose to use a machine that works while they ferret away on computers that are so insecure that they have to ask the user to verify the action at every little teeny single step. I hate them, utterly and completely.

And I hate Charlie. I hate how he purports to be a man of the people, championing ‘loveable’ contraptions against the crushing might of an imaginary elite, as if the world’s PC ‘enthusiasts’ were being rounded up into re-education camps and trained to love the one true workstation, and I hate how, like all true fascists, he really knows that the exact opposite is true.

Every populist demagogue knows there is immense power in the tyranny of the masses and Charlie cynically manipulates it for all he’s worth, trying to convince us that PC users are but good and noble folk battling the sinister forces of the Mac-black pack, but PC users are not the rugged cyber-warriors of Charlie’s fond imaginings – they are cyber-trainspotters. When Mac users swish by in the first class carriage of a Eurostar Class 373 heading for a mini-break in Avignon, only the huddled masses on Gillingham Station know that they are not headed for Brussells because they have noted that the train is not a Class 373/1. These people own PCs.

Charlies’s notion of PC user as underdog is somewhat smudged by fact that Ubernerd squillionare siver-spooner and corporate monopolist William Henry Gates III had to license the best bits of Windows from Apple anyway. For all his ‘genius’ he turned out to be a follower and, furthermore, being as imitation is no longer the sincerest form of flattery but a devious form of intellectual copyright infringement, Apple had to sue Billy for his blatant theft of the other bits he thought he’d just pain steal. Even so, Mac users must still suffer the relentless abuse and prejudices of an army of PC dweebs who do as they are instructed by Billy-boy and Big Blue, a beige brigade who, although they have everything, still whine, even though PC users have Macs to thank for their very existence.

The Nazis thought they were victims too and, talking of fascists, it really does require both some heavy-duty wielding of unelected power and some seismic style shafting of the US Anti-trust laws to have the government take you down for running a monopoly – what was that about elites again?

So Charlie depicts the braying mob as poor, quivering underlings repressed by the privileged haut monde but, far from being an elite, it is Mac users who are oppressed by the common herd – the Apple Mac is the black man of computers, a status reflected by their users’ preferred shade of costume. Macs are a tiny minority who are shunned and ignored by software developers and the Establishment at large but, like other subjugated cultures, they are the engine room of creation; just as Al Jolson and Vanilla Ice made their mark by appropriating black culture, so IBM-compatibles have gained a foothold in the wider world by a gruesome aping of the Mac visage – ‘Windows’, so-named because it goes ‘Crash!’, was no accident.

This deliberate attempt to cash in on the hard work performed by those innovative iconoclasts over Apple has now given us shops crammed with a plethora of grotesque Mac-inated PCs, slightly funk’ed-up looking CPUs that that have grown cyber-sideburns and are screaming ‘Dude! I’m nearly a Mac!’ in a sad attempt to fool the gullible and ill-informed that it will perform as well as the real thing.. Like those coppers that used to dress up as hippies to pass unnoticed during love-ins and peace rallies, the PC is desperately trying to be ‘groovy, maaan!’, but real hipsters know when beige is in the house and what really lurks below the blueberry paint job.

But so what if mainstream software developers despise the Mac? Who needs them? This week’s brand new Mac operating system, the one that Apple promises might still even be current by Tuesday next, now comes bundled with the simply divine application suite EliteWanker 3.0 including not only the latest WriteBook update but also MakeMovie 1.9 and GongWinner Pro 2.0! This may mean building an extension to one’s Loire Valley Château to house all the Oscars, the Bookers, the Pulitzers and Nobel prizes heading one’s way, but such is the price of fun.

PCs may well be the ‘ramshackle computers of the people’; citizens of the former East German Republic will tell you that they had a similar description for their national car, but now that they have other driving options the Trabant has curiously fallen from favour. Fancy that! However, I’m sure some PC krauts still shuffle their decaying Dells around in otherwise unloved Trabbies which are, like their PCs, customised ‘into oblivion’ (if only), although a Trabant with a spoiler, mag wheels and a hood scoop is still, at the end of the day, a Trabant. See: silk purse/pig’s ear. Verstehen Sie?

When Mac users breakfast on Catalonian muesli and triple-fermented Tibetan yak yoghurt in their steel and platinum meal preparation zones, the toaster that sits next to their Mac works. It gleams, it is wildly expensive and it makes good toast. Hot and brown. Yum. However, this toast would not be good enough for PC users, as they could not eat a slice of lightly browned organic mung-bean and flaxseed Sour Dough unless had been cooked in a toaster lovingly reconstructed from the guts of thirty-nine other dead toasters retrieved from various car-boot sales that only works if you slap it.

Actually, they couldn’t eat organic mung-bean and flaxseed Sour Dough at all because they can’t afford it ¬– they spend all of what passes for a disposable income on spare toaster parts and going to toaster building conventions, and anyway, they are not aware and they do not care that any other form of bread other than Wonderwhite exists which is fine by me – the quicker they all die of bowel cancer the better.

But really, what is the glory in putting together a machine from scrap if it inherently and invariably fails to perform its function? Surely the victory in producing an item from rubbish is to make one that actually works? I am aware that it can, in theory, be achieved, but the only PCs that ever run for any reasonable amount of time, i.e. over 30 minutes, are buried in pre-loved pizza boxes, owned by fanatical caffeine-addled insomniacs and filled with so-called ‘games’, the loading of which has necessitated removing from the hard disc such extraneous fripperies as anything approaching anything useful.

This is what passes for ‘fun’ in the land of the Big Blue ¬– the ability to crack the ninety-ninth level of SmackaMac 2: Death to the MachinePeople and bring the magic bong back to the Gatesmeister, a skill which might buy heaps of Kudos on and impress the Pizza delivery guy, a close personal friend of the family by now, and but it’s uses in the real world, i.e. outside the bedroom, are limited. In that real world, where Mac users dwell in neo-modern expressions of urban dissonance with harbour views, fun is booting up one’s Porche and heading off for a meeting with one’s publisher to choose exactly which legendary Hollywood director will be allowed to film one’s latest WriteBook generated novel before calling Orlando, and maybe Nicole, to share a couple of the driest of martinis and enjoy some particularly challenging but ultimately satisfying performance art.

Do they insist that PC users join them? No, they do not. They leave the PC users at home to continue booting up their CPUs, again, bump into their parents accidentally on the way to the toilet, call up for another Hawaiian Supreme and settle in for a long night attempting to reach that ninety-ninth level which, unbeknownst to them, does not actually exist. Which world did I choose? James, warm up the Boxter!

It is a common conceit that dogs look like their owners, or owners look like their dogs, and while this is debatable it cannot be denied that the phenomenon is also true with computers. Witness, if you will, the sleek disposition of the slim, simple, elegant and uncluttered Apple Mac and the beret-bearing sophisticates that utilize them, versus the clumpy, knob laden and indomitably beige PC and the cardiganed, raincoated tragics who call it ‘friend’.

Even heath issues are in play! Mac users radiate a certain glow, a fine fettle born of bio-dynamic tofu enemas while PC users seem to enjoy a permanent sniffle, always dabbing at their bright red noses with Mum’s damp hanky and swallowing buckets of Payless Vitamin C.; likewise, PCs spend 24/7 quaking in fear that a malevolent teenager in Xingtao province with a broadband connection and a bad attitude will choose that day to unleash a virus that will instantly turn the world’s PCs to landfill while Macs merely issue a languorous yawn of an AM and set about saving the planet, unencumbered by worries that they might catch cyber-cold because no one writes malicious code for them – to know Macs is to love them and their masters.

Mac users create things – PC users create things to create things with. Eventually. God willing. After they’ve rebooted. Again. After they’ve played Exterminate: Zlad of the Pluuud Nexus 1.9. Again. Macs are for getting round to writing novels on while PCs are ostensibly to enable the enhancement of the possibility of thinking about maybe getting round to writing novels on. If the thing can stay booted that long. Whatever. No matter how much PC users soup up their wheezing crates, they will never be able to run EliteWanker 3.0 as it is resolutely not cross-platform for the simple reason that PC users have nothing to say. PC users have nothing to say so they spend their time in cyber-worlds, spending real money on things that don’t exist, for fuck’s sake, rebuilding their softdrives and rebooting. Again.

If Macs are, as Charlie asserts, the Fisher-Price Activity Center of the computer world then PCs are the plastic Meccano; flimsy, fiddly, irritating and fruitless ‘projects’ which never look like they do on the box and which require their constructors’ constant attentions. Look, us kids blessed with the Fisher-Price Activity Centers had our the right side of our brains nourished, resulting in our holistic approach to life, our grasp of the abstract, of language, art and music; the children of Meccano, however, were saturated in left-brain activity which promoted their linear, concrete thinking and encouraged them to delight in making fundamentally useless things with little bits and pieces, an experience which admittedly set them up perfectly for a life time of transistorised tinkering.

PC users love switches, knobs, potentiometers, sliders, actuators, whatever; these simple devices serve as distractions from actually getting on with some work, but the only Mac owners are interested in is the one that turns the G7 on, and they kind of loose interest in that after the first day or two because, quite frankly, they never need to use it again. Their machines just sit and purr, ready to spit out a chick-lit pot-boiler any time their black-clad, goateed, running lackey-dog-of-the-bourgeoisie gets around to opening WriteBook after all their other exciting and lucrative projects have been fully realised.

Like Macs, Fisher-Price Activity Centers are a means to an end whereas PCs and Meccano are a means in themselves. The sons of Gates never really ever got over that Meccano stage of pre-adolescence, leaving them with the exasperating latent desire to fuck with stuff. This truth is vehemently denied by the tech-anoraks, but it explains why they constantly refuse to act in their own rational self-interest. I mean, why anyone would drive a Robin Reliant when a Lamborghini is available little extra cost unless the act of driving is not really his or her primary concern?

Sigmund Freud, a Mac-man if ever there was one, would have had a chuckle or two over Charlie’s wild-eyed screed, not for its dangerously unhinged tone so much as how it goes to prove Sigmund utterly correct. PC users types also have some very serious personal identification issues; they suffer from either the unearned high self-esteem of the typical bully who thinks himself superior to those he torments, or the low self-esteem of the perennial victim who has to imitate his tormenter to bolster his self-worth – I don’t know which yet; maybe I should get around to using that AutoDoctorate function? – and they pretty much wear their penis envy on their sleeves as their obsession over ‘whose is bigger’ is hard to hide. They, and particularly Charlie, their self-appointed ‘spokesman’, sputters with incandescent rage and indignation at the idea that someone else’s ‘rig’ might be more powerful than theirs, their very manhood threatened to the core by the thought that someone else may have more RAM. It’s very sad.

Denial is another trait easily identifiable in poor old Charlie and his acolytes; the Apple Macintosh is, by all know criteria, the superior machine, and faced with this threat to their collective ego they do the only thing they can do – deny its truth, and rationalise it away by whining that the Mac must be the lesser consumer durable because it doesn’t have two buttons on its mouse or some such pettiness. Bugger the fact that the Mac does what it’s told when its told to do it, THE PC’S GOT TWO MOUSE BUTTONS! Why do PC owners get so mad with Macs? Why, its reaction formation of course! According to Siggy, PC owners that froth at the mouth in their commendation of Macs are merely demonstrating their own inferiority! Wow! It all makes sense! See what you can do with a Mac? Intelligently examine the evidence. What can you do with a PC? Um…

Or is it projection instead? Maybe its projection as well! Let’s have a look. Do PC users accuse Mac users of the very crimes they commit themselves? Yes? Bingo! Projection! Or, if you prefer, hypocrisy. PC users like to paint Mac lovers some sort of pack of corporate drones while maintaining the conceit that they themselves are all mavericks and iconoclasts, crazy young kids livin’ for the now because they prefer to acquire their hardware from the tip, but don’t forget kids, IBM-style edifices are not called clones for nothing.

Before computers had really taken the world hostage I had an extended stay in hospital, and during this ordeal I was befriended by a nurse named Ian. He had an extensive Jazz collection on vinyl and video, and would stop by at dinnertime, just as my favourite show came on the telly, to tell me about it. Well, when I say tell me about it I mean tell me about how he had catalogued it, on index cards which crossed-referenced each track with what musician in any given year on label X etc etc. The filing cabinets that held it took up more room than the records themselves. I asked him if ever actually listened to the records and he looked confused, upset, and gave me a quizzical glance. Listen to them? I obviously didn’t get it, so he started telling me all over again. I sat back and dreamt of the morgue.

When I saw Ian again not long ago he informed me that he was still living at his mum’s and that he was in the process of transferring his index system onto his new computer. It was a PC. He had just started to explain which programme he was using, and how much extra RAM it required, when I affected an escape; I understand that Ian was out of the Intensive Care Unit and taking solids foods shortly after, but I also understand that the suicide rate amongst the staff in the ICU rose sharply in that time. Ian remains, to this day, the world’s most boring man. Ian owns a PC.

Mac users never preach to anyone that did not express an interest, yet PC users are worse than Christians. They evangelize about a subject that they insist is fact but is, in essence, based on faith; ‘Better pray this works’ say the nerds before booting up, again, and Mac users are constantly having their languid Chardonnay and sex-fuelled Sundays interrupted by a knock on the door from two cyber-losers in burger-stained neckties asking if said Mac user had heard the good news about Vista, donks who are greeted with the Zen Buddhist calm typical of our people and wished well with their spiritual journey, after which the Mac users return peacefully to their tantrical pursuits.

Charlie Booker is correct on one count – the Mac ads are devastatingly accurate, and the fact that he so cheerfully identifies with such a pack of drab saps indicates a mental illness for more worrying than any suffered by the clear-eyed and level headed Macsters. Indeed, apart from either the narcissism or a pathological self-hatred, and penis envy, denial, reaction formation and projection previously mentioned, Charlie is quite obviously suffering from an anti-social personality disorder that sees him regard negative personality traits as positives, the Millwall FC ‘No one likes us – we don’t care!’ approach to computing, but his victimhood is a grossly misplaced – IBM and Microsoft are not exactly what one might describe as vulnerable to exploitation or abuse from larger entities.

Much as Charlie Booker may like to flatter himself, PC users are not idiosyncratic; just like people who say ‘I’m so zany!’ and ‘I’m bonkers, me!’ are invariably found to be completely sane and utterly dull, PC users are not eccentric or quirky mavericks but common or garden drones of the most dismal hue. He denies that people define themselves by the technology they choose because that would mean he defines himself as a bland, dreary, faceless member of the great unwashed, but in pretending to revel in being unreliable and unfair he has done just that – defined himself by the technology he chooses and demonstrated an unhealthy external locus of control by taking on the characteristics of a computer that is notoriously unreliable and run on software declared by the courts to be manifestly unfair.

Mac users, on the other hand, exhibit an internal locus of control by defining the ‘personality’ of their chosen technologies – Macs are designed by the people that use them, they are machines created for baby-boom hippies by baby-boom hippies, reliable, fair and true iconoclasts who live nice lives in the hippest digs with great food and greater drink, beautiful lovers and A grade recreational pharmaceuticals. They are independently wealthy, well read, well respected, fulfilled, creative, prolific and spiritually at one with the universe, and if that makes them wankers it’s a small price to pay. Now, excuse me while I move the bed to opposite the windows and adjust some bamboo flutes to maximise the flow of chi.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Frank And Thorough Exchange Of Views.

Yeah, Elroy knows, but he's been busy. If you tuned in for Just Say No!, the latest from your one and only favorite interwebs wundkind, Elroy is sad to relate that it had to be recalled urgently due to some fatal flaws and errors in logic and reasoning. The mistake was made in production and the appropriate minion has been duly sacrificed, but not before offering an abject and groveling apology to all and sundry, and Elroy hopes you can accept with the same good grace that he sadly failed to muster.

Meanwhile he has been locking horns with The Arctic Fox, so take a peek at the goings-on here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and, of course, here, and report back with your scores or join the fray!