Apple blogtivism.

by waxbanks

(This began as a morning freewrite a month or more ago. I haven’t edited or indeed thought deeply about it.)

I use Apple tech products almost exclusively. They’re well made and the price is generally reasonable. We use Mac laptops, so integrating with Apple handhelds and phones is easy — and worth something to us. I still get good use out of my first-generation iPad, actually, though it’s been ‘superseded’ in every way by later models. Other than my wife’s pedometer and a Nintendo 3DS I was given a few years ago, that’s about it for non-Apple electronic gadgets. It’s a combination of preference and habit.

Maybe this is what ‘brand loyalty’ means. I wouldn’t switch to an Android tablet, say, because it’d damage our ecosystem of instantly synchronized services and devices, with little compensating gain in freedom and much additional hassle (organizationally and culturally, Android is a clusterfuck). I wouldn’t switch to a Windows laptop because my current Mac workflow is solid.

But I find the public’s interest in Apple-the-company embarrassing, and (worse, from my perspective) predictable. Mostly people are interested in Apple’s fortunes for the same reasons they’re interested in, of all things, box office receipts for expensive Hollywood movies: people with no money like to look at money, and to ascribe it magical powers. Relative to Apple, we all have no money.

The subtype of tech/gadget punditry (already one of the least interesting ‘journalistic’ fields there is) known as Apple punditry, derisively but not inaccurately known as ‘the Apple fanboy blogs,’ retains a weird fascination for me after all these years for a couple of reasons:

  • fake technical sophistication
  • style fetishism that boils down to ‘if it’s Apple-like, it’s “elegant” design’
  • the related idea that proximity to Apple’s style imparts it to the blogger
  • wonkish dilettantism and narrowness
  • naked advocacy, well and subtly compensated with free gadgets and microfame, in the guise of ‘journalism’
  • regular anti-Google/anti-Amazon childishness
  • their incredible ability to cheer for Apple as if it were (still) the scrappy underdog rather than one of the largest corporations in human history
  • (oh, and their bizarre need to cheer for Apple)

The common reason given by Apple bloggers for that last bullet point is disingenuous, not to mention nonsensical: ‘They make the best products.’ This inevitably comes off as an analogue of ‘This is the best bottle of wine’ rather than ‘This car handles best on wet roads.’ Challenge that claim on any grounds, not least the psychological, and you’ll hear that Apple (like Disney) actually ‘cares’ about ‘experiences,’ not products, and Apple’s products provide the best experience. Play another couple rounds of that game and it’s into the ad hominems about Larry Page and Jeff Bezos, or rants about the ‘correct’ proportions of system icons, or how everyone steals Apple’s designs, etc., etc., etc.

The Apple fanboy blogs (and online ‘columns’ that’re just blogs) do share one saving grace: they don’t play the asinine minutely-comparing-tech-specs game that stands in for analysis in the wider gadget-writing sector. This isn’t noble, mind you; Apple’s just conditioned its fans over the last decade not to care about tech specs. The outcome is, I think, better than the alternative, though the psychology isn’t.

If I have a wider point (I don’t), it’s this: Apple’s little volunteer blogger army isn’t visible at all to the average human being, but in subtle ways, they shape the discourse around Apple Inc. and computers in general. They help write the Silicon Valley (hero-)narrative. So it’s useful to defocus a little, to look at the longer contour being revealed — because you see the same phenomenon all over the mediasphere, as participation in what one blogger (jokingly?) calls the ‘Cult of Mac’ (or Marvel, or Hillary, or Brooklyn) is deemed sufficient reward for hours of otherwise uncompensated labour on behalf of what is, for all its organizational virtues, a great engine of capitalism.

Also it’s useful to air my resentment of hackish dilettantes making plenty of money by providing free advertising to a tech-lifestyle company. Indeed: that seems essential.