As Apple would have it, your choice of laptop is your defining personality trait. You’re either a Mac hipster or a PC suit.
But Windows couldn’t let the Mac guy’s slights go unanswered, adopting an advertising strategy that answers for its competitor’s portrayal of the PC nerd. “I’m a PC” is the rallying cry for an amalgam of personalities — black, white, young, old and Jerry Seinfeld.
But both companies’ commercials make it clear: you’re PC or you’re Mac, you’re with us or you’re against us.
On campus, the obvious battleground is the Fishbowl, where a clear divide separates the two rival operating systems. Students who go in are presented with a choice that exposes where their allegiances lay.
Danny Dumas, an associate editor at Wired Magazine and Wired.com, said the division between Mac users and PC users has become a “cultural battle.”
“Macs are sort of a lifestyle product, gauged towards people who are in the arts and are creative and people who are aesthetically minded,” he said. “PCs on the other hand are more egalitarian and more business-like in the way they approach things.”
LSA senior Hannah Collard said that she almost exclusively turns right, looking for an open PC because Macs are just too difficult to use.
“I’ve always used a PC so I understand how to use them better, I just guess it’s harder for me to use a Mac,” she said.
While the actual number of PC computers (132) does outweigh the count of its operating system counterpart (91), Fishbowl computer consultant Sakif Imtiaz said the aesthetic appeal of Macs draws more students in.
“I think people nowadays go for the Macs just because of the new screens, they’re a lot bigger,” he said. “I saw more people going towards them once we got the new ones in, they look nicer.”
Imtiaz, who has worked at the Fishbowl for over a year, said that for the most part, Mac users go for the Macs and PC users will look for PCs. But there is also a large independent demographic, which he said will usually go to the Macs first, but really base their decisions on whichever computer is available.
Mohit Mehan, LSA junior and Mac user, said that while he prefers the reliability of a Mac, there is nothing you can do if they’re all taken.
“If I’m coming in the middle of the day any other day except Friday, you’re just going to try to get what you can get, because it’s a mad rush,” he said.
But this struggle extends beyond the glass walls of Angell Hall’s computing site.
Dumas, the Wired editor, said that while Microsoft dominates the market, Apple’s small yet engaged consumer base is a very big asset.
“Microsoft has a lot of people who use their product so in terms of sheer numbers, PCs are definitely winning,” he said. “But Macs are slowly gaining market share and they have a very, sort of small, niche group of people who are very, very dedicated to Apple and Macs.”
The clearest example of this cultural schism, according to Dumas, is Apple’s ad campaign starring actor Justin Long as the hipster incarnation of a Mac and humorist John Hodgeman as the uncool and absentminded personification of a PC.
In the U.S., this archetypal pairing has become the model for comparing the contemporary and progressive with a more old-fashioned, conventional mindset.
This contrast has even popped up in this year’s presidential race.
In February, the New York Times’s Noam Cohen wrote an article — called “Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?” — in which he compared the two hopefuls for the Democratic nomination by the Mac-to-PC measuring stick.
“(Obama’s website) signals in myriad ways that it was designed with a younger, more tech-savvy audience in mind — using branding techniques similar to the ones that have made the iPod so popular,” Cohen wrote.
He goes on to say: “Mrs. Clinton’s site uses a more traditional color scheme of dark blue, has sharper lines dividing content and employs cookie-cutter icons next to its buttons for volunteering.”
To combat that characterization of the tech landscape, Dumas said that Microsoft has rolled out a rebuttal ad campaign, which stars the company’s former CEO, Bill Gates, and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, as an attempt “to make themselves look and feel sort of cooler, to tap into (Apple’s) market.”
But for Mehan, the cultural implications of choosing an operating system take a backseat to choosing the one that will help him get his homework done.
“I know people are obsessed with their Macs,” he said. “I’m not obsessed with it, its just reliable, I know it’s going to work.”
Dumas said the Mac operating system is actually “more stable” than Microsoft’s Vista operating system. This is because Apple builds the latest version of its operating software onto the previous edition, unlike Microsoft’s engineers, who completely take apart their old operating system and start anew.
But Imtiaz, the computer consultant, said that this explanation does not mirror his experience working in the Fishbowl.
“Just from working here, I’ll tell you, I see way more often that the Macs have some really random error,” he said. “With the PCs we have very few problems like that.”
He said that sometimes the Mac computers freeze and people ask him how they can retrieve their work.
“And I have to tell them, well you can’t, you’re screwed,” he said.
But the culture war between Mac and PC has gone beyond the actual usability of either operating system to become the “West Side Story” of the technological age. And when you’re a Mac, you’re a Mac all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day.
When you’re a Mac, you stay a Mac.

Illustration by Laura Garavoglia

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