But I Digress...
by Doc Hillman
The Hip Factor: The Mac's Shift From Cool To Hip
September 29th, 2000
If you read this month's Macworld, and this month's MacAddict, you aren't likely to notice more than the usual distinctions between the two unless you look really closely at the magazines. Sure, Macworld and MacAddict differ wildly as publications, but there's always been a certain level of Mac advocacy that is alive and well in both. As the major players in the market, MacPublishing and Imagine Media both produce well written and edited magazines. I've noticed though, that there has been a subtle shift within the two that is of great importance. It all revolves around one word. Cool.
Any of you that have spent some time reading my ramblings have by now noticed (if you've been paying attention) that I have a special place reserved in my hall of shame for the word "cool." It's not that I've got some great semantic argument against the word itself, but I've been reading material about Macs long enough that the word cool has gotten to be, well, completely annoying.
Why? A bundle of reasons- some of them downright personal. To get the full picture, you've got to understand that I was, for many years of my life (and probably still am) stuck in the world of the un-cool. It doesn't really matter that I've got lots of great toys, it's just that I wasn't really brought up on cool. Being the son of a minister (a PK to the initiated) I never had the bucks to dress like my friends in boarding school. To me, they represented the ultimate in cool in their preppy dress. I came to cherish the very concept of owning anything made by Brooks Brothers, and learned from the masters how to take a pair of Topsiders, wrap them with hockey tape when they were worn, and extend their life far beyond the norm. That was cool.
But I digress.
Now ever since the iMac hit the streets, I have been immersed in the world of computer cool. At first, I suppose that the concept grabbed me. I went out and dutifully fought my boss for a Rev. A iMac, and reveled in the cool of the machine. I even overlooked the shortcomings of the machine (in retrospect that CD-ROM drive was a real dog) because it was, well, cool. The kids that live with me acknowledged that I had the coolest computer of them all, and that dear friends, was sweet. Until the DV came along. Then, I had to get the next cool thing. Now, the Cube has come along and upped the ante.
Of course, that's the way MacAddict, and countless pundits, have viewed the Cube. It's cool. Way cool. So cool that you have to have it. Damn the shortcomings of the machine (no audio out port? Only USB? I don't give a damn how good Harman's speakers are, but there is no way that the quality of sound is going to be able to match that of a decent stereo system wired into the Mac.) Fred Faulkner of Harman is probably reading this ready to throttle me, but I just can't buy the premise that those globes are going to beat my Pioneer receiver driving DBX speakers. The 200 watts actually mean something to the sound quality, and even with the iSub, the system is a personal stereo system- not something to really build your music system around.)
But I digress. And rant too. Speaking of which - wouldn't you love to hear Dennis Miller really get off on a rant on Monday Night Football? Trust ABC to hire a guy whose stock and trade is off-color humor and restrict him with the television standards and practices people. But I digress yet again.
The thing is, this month, Macworld seems to have fairly killed the word cool for me. If it's Andy Gore's call, it's one of the best he's made in a while. Instead of cool, the word "hip" started to show up all over the place in Macworld. I'm not a subscriber (and my comp issues stopped coming about the same time as the MacCentral checks dried up) but I sense that this shift is probably editorial.
If so, then Macworld gets enormous kudos on this one. Why you ask again? Simple. The iMac and its brethren took the word cool and made it into a virtually meaningless piece of junk. That I've written all of these words and being forced to use cool drives me crazy. Now, that's my own crazy, and I have been known to do some pretty crazy things in my time, at least by my estimation. I've been behind some crazy one's too. As a boarding school veteran (I never mentioned that John Scully and I graduated from the same school- never was important. Isn't now) I learned the art of pranks. Scully knew how to pull them as well. An amateur hypnotist, he once gave a kid a post-hypnotic suggestion to freeze in the middle of the aisle in chapel. Wish I had been there. Wasn't born yet.
But I digress.
Cool isn't the word for Macintosh, and never should have been the word. "Hip" makes so much more sense. Things that are cool tend to have a rather short shelf life (Pet Rocks anyone? Tickle me Elmo? Teddy Ruxpin? Cabbage Patch kids?) and end up on the scrap heap. Since most computers are doing a headlong rush to the dump anyway, let's leave cool to whatever attempts the Wintel forces try to develop. I'll take hip any day of the week.
Hell, in the seventies, John Travolta was cool. Way cool. Everybody bought Saturday Night Fever. And Saturday Night Fever was anything but hip. It might have been cool, but hip? No, not hip. Miles Davis? Hip. John Coltrane? Hip. Ella Fitzgerald? She was even hip when she was too old to be hip. Watching her scat at Hollywood Bowl when she could barely walk was hip with an exclamation point.
But I digress.
Macworld seems to have grabbed on to hip instead of cool, and they couldn't have done a better thing for the Macintosh. Once it becomes truly hip to use the Mac, the challenge to Apple will be to continue to make timeless machine architecture. Wes George got on me a few weeks back about my waning taste for the iMac. I guess that it just started to get less hip for me. It's been pared down for business tasks now, and I can't find so much that's cool about it.
However, does the iMac pass what will become for me the essential test of Macs? Is it hip? As I watched George W. Bush speak last night to a group of students, there was a row of Macs sitting prominently behind him (purple ones.) If a Republican (sorry Rodney) can love the machine, it's got to be more than cool. It's got to be downright hip. All in all, it makes me understand why my colleague ran out and got a Cube post haste. I don't think that Rodney's trapped in the world of the cool. He's as caught up in hip as any of us. And damnit, even though I don't like the basic nature of the Cube, it's awfully damned hip. I'm not buying one, but lord, if you are giving away Cubes with Cinema displays at Christmas, please, have Santa put me at the top of the list.
We can rave about power and gigaflops all we want, but the big question is whether or not Apple is going to be able to keep on grabbing the hip factor long after the iMac has been relegated to the scrap heap. So to Macworld- a big thank you for going out and calling the machine what it is. Hip. Damned Hip. Incredibly hip, even if you don't like the nature of the beast.
It's the Volkswagon lesson- if you make it hip, people are going to buy it. And if you make it really hip, people are going to find the old stuff hip again. The iMac is the original Mac to the nth (yes, it is a word- look it up) degree. Here's to Macworld for giving word to what I've wondered about for a long time. Thanks for the hip check.
Your comments are welcomed.
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Dr. Tim Hillmanis a long time contributor to the Mac community through his work with MacCentral, MacOPINION, and most recently MacOS Daily.