by Rodney O. Lain
The Virtue Of Not Giving A Damn:
Getting Beyond Ideology, Money, Fame & Market Share
August 17th 2000
It is horrible to see everything that one
detested in the past coming back wearing
the colors of the future.
The world is ruled by force, not by opinion;
but opinion uses force.
There's not a thing on earth that I can name,
So foolish, and so false, as common fame.
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)
Intro: I'm famous among five percent
The other day, someone pointed out that I am a famous, influential Mac web writer -- his words, not mine. He also implied that I realize neither the depths of this so-called fame, nor its extent. It didn't show in my response to him, but I took offense at that observation, cogent or not.
It's hard to explain, but I struggle with both the desire to be a widely read writer and my disdain of the inherent snobbery associated with any measure of fame. There are other inner struggles that I deal with, and for some reason, they often surface when I have to deal with my minor notoriety.
Often, I am genuinely embarrassed when someone wants to shake my hand, or wants to discuss something I've written about, or wants to ask my opinion -- all because they've liked something I've said (it's really embarrassing when someone says your writing made them laugh, think or act -- and you're standing there, casting a casual smile, trying to remember what the hell it is you wrote). The other day, while working my weekend job at a local computer store, I enjoyed a similarly embarrassing moment:
There was this man, 50ish or so. We talked for a while. I showed him a few software titles in response to a question he had. This man gave off an incredible aura of sincerity. We finished talking. He was about to leave. I thanked him for coming in. He looked at me and then surprised me with his final comment: "you know, I will buy my next computer from you, because I like you and trust you. I never will forget what you said that day that you spoke to our user group."
He said that and left, with me standing there, scratching my bald head, trying to figure out just what did I say that was so profound, so that I can go quickly and repeat it to my wife. (You never know; it may convince her that I "need" that new PowerBook earlier than our agreed-upon purchase date. But, I digress
Why are we here?
There is a plethora of web sites dedicated to the Macintosh and everything related to it. I write for some of them. Why do you read them? Why do we write for them?
Ultimately, the answer to both of the previous questions is "because many of us believe in what Apple is doing."
That is the answer I keep coming to whenever I have brushes with my Mac-web fame. That explains why that customer likes what I said and trusts me. When I talk and write, I am often putting our shared beliefs into words.
But, why am I continually doing this? Is it an ego stroke? Sure. If anyone tells you otherwise, they're a lying bastard. But if that is the only reason, they're wasting their time and yours. To spend so much time in my position within the Mac world takes a measure of faith. You see, this Mac world is based wholly in belief and faith, if you'll admit it. Some will scoff at the notion of this faith, as well as the notions of "Mac community" and try to drown out your enthusiasm with incessant shouts of "Bah! Humbug!" but we know better.
I think that this "belief" we deal with here is way beyond Apple's control. There is something inexpressibly noble about trying to use technology to empower the people and to help make the world a better place. Most Mac users choose a Mac because, on some level, they are attracted to Apple's claim of empowerment. I mean, when's the last time you heard someone rhapsodize their PC and try to get others on their PC bandwagon because of their newfound sense of empowerment. That story is a common thread among Mac user.
Another common thread is that we have a community. This desire for empowerment and community resonates with nearly Mac user at some level. Ditto for the concomitant concepts of freedom and individuality.
These are the core beliefs that are beyond Apple's control, yet Apple sells this to the user. Can a company foster a community? I'll have to think on this one. Apple Computer, for better or worse, is playing on your innate desires for freedom and fulfillment by producing products that purport to do just that. That is probably the germ of what I said to that shopper that he latched onto.
I've had the pleasure of talking with several Apple employees over time. One of the most impressive comments I've heard is one manager's comments about the attitude of "change the world!" still found in Cupertino.
He said that he often marveled at meetings he attended, in which co-workers discussed products and spoke at length about how the believed in not only the Apple brand, but most importantly, what it stands for: power to the people.
For me, "power to the people" means the power to say any damned thing that I want, within reason. In my job as a columnist, I see myself as performing a two-fold job here: that of lapdog and that of watchdog.
As a lapdog, I am the consummate cheerleader. If you know me, you'd swear that I was an Apple employee. That doesn't mean that I am a gushing Apple groupie. That means that I can see how Apple has garnered, by mere time and reputation, the association with empowerment and freedom. If you have any association with Corporate America, you can appreciate how rare this association is with any company American companies, anyway.
Since this is so rare, I have no problem unabashedly promoting it; I see myself protecting an endangered species. But, there are times, alas and alack, when you can get tired of that loveable Dodo bird if it keeps doodooing on your shoes. Hey, even a dyed-in-the-wool fan boy can't always overlook the flaws in the object of his adoration.
As a watchdog, I'm probably one of Apple's harshest critics. As an Apple stockholder, I have every right to be. After all, in essence, Steve Jobs works for me.
This is why I often marvel when someone tells me that I'm famous. I'm just a guy who has enough mastery of the English language to argue for the things that he believes in. Honestly, I do this for the most selfish of reasons: Apple has to survive. It goes back to that dearth of companies that you can believe in.
Warts and all, Apple is one of those few in which one can believe. Furthermore, the company is willing to do the most offensive thing in the history of Corporate America, like jettisoning its sacred cows ("Classic" Mac OS, legacy computing technology, "unsafe" business practices like opening stores in a recession). People respect such a James Dean outlook on life.
Many of us have a strong belief in the notion that there is a Better Way in the world of computing technology. This is ultimately what I spend my time writing and publicly speaking about.
"Why so worked up over a computer?" is what many often ask me.
In many ways, it is a last hope of mine. Something about us humans that needs to believe in something. It doesn't matter if you are an atheist; there are some things that you need for inspiration. For some of us, Apple is that hope.
Many look to things like religion for this. But what is wrong with a company giving hope? Personally, there isn't much difference between the two: both are out to make a buck. Even if it is just a marketing strategy, publicly talking about changing the world and such can often lead to just that. It puts people in that frame of mind.
That is the main reason why Apple will continue. The world needs Apples. Apple and its philosophy may appear to be mere words, but with enough momentum and time, even words can become a major movement.
There's nothing wrong with expressing hope for a better tomorrow. It seems that Apple, with its products and services, is one of very few companies that are proactively working toward making technology a fun and functional part of our daily lives.
Shifting toward a more techno-centered lifestyle needs more than Microsoft throwing more features against the walls of Windows XP. It takes an extra component. Faith? I don't know. But when making a paradigm, aren't faith and belief part and parcel in making successful such a major change? Society is on the verge of the next level of technological explosion, but it will take some belief brands to lead the way.
This ongoing experiment called Macintosh represents something bigger than just selling computers. It represents helping humans reach their undiscovered potential; I believe that will be the main characteristic of the next level of technological explosion. My Mac helps me reach this far more often than my PC ever does.
My PC gets my job done. My Mac helps me to feed my soul.
So, when someone glad hands me and tells me I'm famous, I know that they are making a natural reaction to the sight of someone who has a satisfied soul. I'm not doing anything extraordinary. I'm just a guy who writes, and it just happens to reach thousands of people.
Which, in itself, is another testament to Apple's ability to bring power to powerless people like. That's more important any measure of fame.
Rodney O. Lain thinks too much. Sometimes it even makes sense. He lives in Minnesota. Maybe that explains some things.
Your comments are welcomed.
Rodney O. Lain is a junior manager at a major corporation. He enjoys public speaking, mentoring minority college students, and helping community multicultural-awareness efforts. He also "preaches the Gospel" at a Minneapolis Micro Center -- he's the bald black guy. Rodney "drives" a G4 Cube and a PowerBook G3. After enjoying a popular run at Mac Addict.com, "iBrotha" was axed, to readers' dismay. Back by popular demand, it now runs exclusively at Mac Observer every other Friday, replacing "Rodney's Soapbox."
[Editor's Note: Rodney O.Lain passed away in June, 2002.]
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