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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Is The Mac Spirit Dead?
March 7th, 2000

It's 10:30 PM, I am in the subway in Montreal, getting back late from work. After switching lines and waiting a few minutes for the next subway to pick me up, I enter a wagon. Tired, I take a seat and I look around. The thing about the subway is that people can't look out the window between stations since you see nothing but a thick cement wall moving past you. They're stuck looking up or down, or reading something.

(Use your patience, fella. The Mac part is going to be good if you read this intro!)

Nobody looks around at other people around on the subway. It is the kind of mood you can find in public transportation in any big city. People are shy. Except for me. I look around, and if I catch anybody looking at me, I stare at the person right in the eyes to see their reaction. At the moment, I'm the only one looking at other people. What do I see around me? Here is a short list:

  • An Asian couple is to my left, seated together and just chatting.
  • To my left, some guy may have used a little too much bleach. His hair is almost white!
  • To my right, a young woman focuses on the music playing on her walkman and some guy is reading a book.
  • In front of me, another young woman. This one is very pretty and reads the latest issue of Macworld magazine. She's cute and I presume she is a Machead... I have to talk to her!

Four stations later, as if we didn't share enough already, we both get out of the subway. I think "enough!" and I decide to start a conversation.

    Me: You're reading Macworld... what kind of Mac do you have?

    Her: You use Macs too? Cool. I own a Performa 6200 and a PowerBook G3.

    Me: That's great, I have a G3 All-in-one, a model Apple manufactured for the education market in 1998.

    Her: Yeah, I heard about that one.

I won't give you a full transcript of our chit chat, I'll spare you. At the end, just before we went our separate ways, we said good-bye and waved hands just like old friends would.

It's strange, isn't it? We're total strangers, we never met before and probably won't meet again. Still, there was this feeling of friendship that got us to talk to each other for a few minutes, even though, in Montreal, most people will never dare to engage in a conversation with a stranger in the street or in the subway. You never know what kind of whacko is a few feet from you.

In this case, something united us. The Macintosh. This kind of thing happens every day in North America. Despite how hard it can be to make friends on the street, you have the impression that most Mac users can be your friends.

Why am I writing this? Because some people seem to think that this spirit of community is fading away since Apple is making money and the user base is getting wider. How untrue!

An example of this is what Del Miller wrote for Applelinks on January 29. Here are a couple of quotes:

Out of this uncertainty [about Apple's survival] grew a sense of community that bound us together. Like motorcyclists of bygone years, our uniqueness bred a passion that brought us together. [...] The fear that the Macintosh, our vision of the future, might disappear bound the Apple community together more strongly than ever before and the Macintosh following became an army. That dedication formed a communal bond, a society of people who shared a vision, and fought for it with their own, clenched-fist salute.

[...]

But Apple is no longer in trouble. It is selling Macintoshes in record numbers and the ranks of Macintosh users are growing ever faster, and in the process becoming less of an elite. [...] New users see their computers as tools for their own particular application and the machine itself is not seen as the bridge to others that it once was. [...] I smell change in the air. It is the same discomforting sensation I've felt so many times before when the passion of the dedicated few is finally rewarded by commercial success -- a sense that what we've fought so hard to preserve will be made moot by our victory. [...] The solidarity of the motorcycle world crumbled because there was no higher purpose than the enjoyment of the individual rider, and so the increased popularity of motorcycling only diluted the passion of the original pioneers. If the Macintosh community is to survive as a cultural phenomena, we have to keep our higher purpose.

Del's columns are always interesting, so go read the whole thing.

Del's concern is perfectly understandable. But in reality, he misses one little point. This sense of community still exists and it shows no signs of ending! The example I gave about the girl I met in the subway is one among dozens. I see Mac users regularly and I talk to them. They wouldn't talk to me because they're too shy. After all, Montreal is a big city and you never know who you're talking to. But once they know I'm another Mac user, their reaction is the same. "Hey, that's a friend!"

Del's point doesn't restrict itself to people in real life, but a lot of his arguments apply to the Web. While the Mac Web isn't always as friendly as we would like it to be, the sense of community between users is alive and kicking outside of it. With all those new users who were brought to the platform by an iMac or an iBook, it might be harder to feel it, but it's there. If it's not the case for people you meet, then these people might just need to learn about it. It requires a bit of an effort from us, but it is well worth it.

Once these new folks feel the bond, they know that it's not just a platform that separates them from PCs. It's the Mac spirit. I know this from experience. It was harder to show a new user what the Mac is all about, but it was worthwhile.

Don't give up, Del! If you meet a new user who doesn't get the "motorcycle salute" of the Macintosh, just show him!

Del isn't alone with his concern. My very own Editor-in-chief, Bryan Chaffin, wrote similar words, which I will quote below:

Back to my old editorial, the main point I was trying to make was the question of what would become of the Mac culture if the Mac became successful. Truly successful [...] The very thing we complained about, the lack of market share for our computing platform, acted as a cement to turn us into a community.

A community centered on a computing platform. It's amazing. It's a bit weird too when you look at it objectively. It's also very cool and I am proud to be a part of this community. But what happens when we are no longer the "few, the proud, the Mac users... "as I put it in 1997. I quote myself:

If this scenario occurs, consumers are likely to start buying Macs. Lots of consumers. Droves of consumers. Ordinary consumers.

No longer will the Mac be the platform of "Artists and Desktop Publishers." You will be able to go to your classmate's house to print that term paper. Your office's network administrator won't fight to have those last three Macs thrown away. You won't be the only person on your street with an Apple sticker on all of your cars and on every window facing the street. Before you know it, sales clerks in retail stores will start knowing what the Finder is.

When everyone is in the "know," or in the category of people that don't care but at least picked the right computer, what happens to those of us who have been fighting the good fight for years? Will the Mac culture that we know survive this transition? I don't think so, and I honestly hope it does not do so. I don't want to be "that guy" who gets pissed that everyone else has clued into what he likes and resents the "intruders."

No Bryan, this culture won't die. It's too strong to die. It will resist if people like you and me make an effort when we feel that an acquaintance, who just adopted the Mac doesn't get the concept of the Mac culture. At least, this is what I learned from my very own experience in Montreal.

Sure, there are consumers out there that won't get it, but it's a limited crowd. The rest can learn why the Mac is so special when compared to the PC world. The spirit will be diluted a bit, but all those new users aren't switching to the Mac for nothing. From the start, they feel that Macs are different - and this starts at the moment they see the well-designed case - and when they get to meet other Mac users, they get this sense of community without knowing it. If they don't, then it's a good idea to help cultivate the spirit for them to feel its effects.

Yes, Bryan and Del, the Mac culture and sense of community are alive and will survive the Mac's new popularity. One of the conditions for its survival is the old gang's dynamic presence.

On a side note, I should have tried to get that girl's number. But that's another story...

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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