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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Group Thinking & The Macintosh Explained
October 31st, 2000

To be a Mac user, you have to think differently. We have to go past the usual "I stick with what I know" barrier and adventure into the unknown. No matter what we say about Mac users, we all know one thing: we like something other than Windows and Intel (or AMD) equipped machines.

Whether they adopt the platform because of its operating system, its now-famous industrial design or because of its sheer distinction, Mac users are different from the PC crowd. These people escape group thinking by going against the flow and choosing something else than everybody's computer.

On the other hand, I have the impression that a slight form of group thinking assails the Mac aficionado anyway.

What? Us? Guilty of group thinking? You read it right. Of course, as we are the ones claiming to be distinctive, we may refuse to admit it even though it is probably true.

This group thinking affects Mac users but it is subtler than hearing a Windows user saying "everybody uses Windows anyway" when discussing platform choices. As you get ready to fire off an e-mail and ask me how group philosophy concerns us, let me take a few minutes to define it coherently and to put it into context.

What is group thinking, anyway?

I read this book about workplace and organization psychology a while ago. A passage struck me because it is accurate and because you can link it to the Macintosh. As the quoted object is in French, allow me to cite via translation:

When group members have to make decisions, high levels of cohesion can, in certain cases, prove negative and lead to group thinking. This type of conformity shows through intolerance toward deviance, which we could define as any behavior disobeying to the group's rules. Such cohesion also gets certain people to rally to the dominant opinion rather than sharing their own.

Three factors explain such conformity and deviance: obliging or disrespectful attitudes toward the norms; identification to the norms; interiorization of the norms by integrating to the group's ways.

One plus one equaling two, we have to face this conformity. Many of the quoted words describe the Macintosh world explicitly. You may have reservations about this, but if that is the case, you have to tell me how Mac users, platform and community break away from identification to each other and their computer. There is certainly a chunk of the Mac using market that use their Macs with the sole justification that it is superior, without even thinking about identifying to it. However, this does not apply to the vast majority of Mac users.

What about intolerance to others who split from the party line? If you judge by the way some people react when you criticize Steve Jobs and Apple, or if you dare to write negative comments about Apple products (especially when they are beta), you can see quickly that quite a few Mac heads will get the flame thrower if you adventure an opinion different than their conventional thinking.

Another thing to look at is the way almost everybody sings together to praise Apple and promote its cause, sometimes without a healthy bit of reservation. Just watch a few Mac advocates in action to perceive a good illustration of this behavior.

In the above quote, you can read the word "cohesion". If there is an ultimate way to describe Macintosh addicts, it is cohesion. Despite their individual differences, it is amazing how Mac users can bond naturally. They occasionally do it instinctively or in ways that would astonish anybody who is unaware of what brings them together.

Such cohesion makes Macheads a large but tight assembly that goes in one direction.

What about that mention in my quote that describes rallying to the dominant position? You can observe this as well. How many Mac users say things like they have their differences with Apple, Steve Jobs and the way they do business? Did they also say that they would go ahead and work their tails off for the success of the platform anyway? It could have happened.

Just as many do, (i.e. when organizing political campaigns), people may not agree with each element of the party line or with the choice of the candidate to support, but they are ready to sweat in order to bring victory. This is their way to sacrifice their opinion for the sake of consensus instead of fighting against it at all costs. The US and Canadian elections are timely examples of this.

We call this working for the cause and it applies well to Mac users. They will advocate the Mac despite their divergence from the platform's standards... for the cause.

All of this applies to Mac users and shows us that despite escaping conventional group thinking, the Mac community manages to create its own collective standards.

If we take a critical look at our individual behavior, we can find traces of such group thinking, whether we are ready to admit it or not. Is this a bad thing? Take the question from assorted angles and you can come up with varied conclusions. Group thinking is not a crime but it is something that folks have to face and admit.

We are different from PC and Windows operating people, but we have our own conformism and unadventurous reflexes. It is part of the game.

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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