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ATPM 5.10
October 1999






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User Preference

by Scott Feldstein,

Scott’s Law of User Insanity

The Macintosh is insanely great. Mac users, on the other hand, are merely insane. But Windows users are no better. Certainly their own pathology takes a different form, but we’re all a little nuts if you ask me.

Consider that we Mac users are willing to pay more for our computers in spite of the fact that there are fewer software titles available for them. More to the point, we often insist that people who don’t choose as we do are unsophisticated, vulgar sheep.

We sometimes even deny the facts. I myself have spoken personally to Mac loyalists who proclaim their ATI Rage 128 video cards (the ones that ship in recent Power Macintosh models) vastly superior to all others. As if the processing power of the nVidia TNT2 and 3dfx Voodoo 3 chips were roughly equal to that of a stale Dorito. No amount of benchmarking will convince them otherwise, it seems. These folks are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, if you ask me.

And what about those nutcases who call themselves PC users? They’re perhaps even worse. Don’t let them fool you—many of them do know what RISC and CISC mean. Yet in spite of this they defend the enormous, overclocked, too-hot-to-touch Pentium II and III as laughably superior to the G3 and G4. Furthermore, they’ll go on and on about how their OS is superior because the Mac OS doesn’t even include “regedit.exe.” Are they one taco short of a combination plate?

What is it that makes otherwise intelligent people behave so? It’s simple really. I call it Scott’s Law of User Insanity. In it’s simplest form, the Law looks like this:

(Some attribute of my computer) = not only am I devastatingly handsome, I’m really smart for having bought this machine.

Here’s an example of Scott’s Law in action. Let’s say a guy just bought a computer. We’ll call him, I don’t know...“Bill.” The new computer on Bill’s desk is a spankin’ new Dell Pentium III. After having bought it, Bill discovers that his Pentium III processor is an enormous, clunky thing with an operating temperature roughly equal to the surface of the sun. To make matters worse, he discovers that the only difference between his computer and the cheaper Pentium II he scorned is that the P3 includes a few instructions which boost performance of three applications in the entire universe by about .005%. Deep in Bill’s subconscious, a thought begins to form and it goes like this:

My computer has a lame processor = I’m a chump.

Obviously Bill’s subconscious mind will not allow such a thought to surface where it might cause feelings of, well, “chumpiness.” Thus Bill performs a little slight of hand with the facts to save himself the agony of such realizations. By the time Scott’s Law has worked it’s magic, the thought finally reaches Bill’s conscious mind looking like this:

CISC is superior to RISC and Intel’s “Katami” instructions are God’s own gift to microprocessors = Not only am I devastatingly handsome, but I’m really smart for having bought this machine

You can see that the facts have been changed in the first half of the equation so that the end can come out more favorably. Bill’s mind is at ease. For the most part, that is. Deep down he may suspect that something is amiss, and this may cause him to occasionally post to news groups like comp.sys.macintosh with tidbits like “Get a clue you Mac-in-trash idiots!” But for the most part, he’s at peace with himself, having made the Scott’s Law equation come out right.

To be fair, we Mac users do the very same thing. Consider a fellow who just bought himself a new G4. Let’s call him—picking a name at random, you understand—“Steve.” Steve, an avid gamer, marvels at the slick design and processing power of his G4. But one day he learns that all is not well in G4-dom. His PC-using friend, Bill, just e-mailed him and let slip that he gets approximately 39 billion frames-per-second when playing Quake 2 with his nVidia TNT2 video card. Steve himself only gets about 34 billion FPS with his ATI Rage 128. Furthermore, he can’t just go out and get a TNT card for his Power Mac—nVidia simply doesn’t make such a thing. Slowly but surely, the wheels deep in Steve’s mind arrive at the following thought:

I just paid a great deal of money for a system for which there are fewer add-in components like video cards = I’m a fool.

Obviously this distasteful idea simply cannot be allowed to reach Steve’s conscious mind unaltered lest he suffer feelings of foolishness. Sadly, Steve performs some mental gymnastics similar to those which Bill engaged in, resulting in:

The Rage 128 provides the absolute best gaming experience money can buy = not only am I devastatingly handsome, but I’m really smart for having bought this machine.

Thus Steve goes on his merry way, keeping intact his feelings of intellectual superiority and personal attractiveness at the expense of a more honest appraisal of his platform choice. Like Bill, however, he may occasionally have to reinforce his new thought by snickering at PC users and referring to Bill Gates as the anti-Christ.

So in the end it seems there’s no real harm done. Both our users feel good about themselves and their computers. I mean, both have decent new computers, so why should they feel badly about a few shortcomings? A little self-deception goes a long way towards making a lot of people feel better about a lot of things, after all.

No harm done? Let me count the ways. First off, when Bill spews his flame-bait into the Macintosh newsgroups, he’s acting like a jerk and ticking a lot of people off. Similarly, when Steve belittles his PC-using friends, he alienates them. Neither approach does much in the way of a fruitful exchange of ideas or even peaceful co-existence. The fact that it makes them feel better personally does not justify these results.

Let’s also consider what each of these guys is doing to harm his respective platform. By denying themselves an honest appraisal of their respective platforms, they cannot offer intelligent feedback to manufacturers of the systems. That is, if no PC users complain about the skanky x86 architecture, what incentive to companies like Intel have to change things? And let’s not leave out Apple. Why would they go to all the trouble to encourage companies like 3dfx or nVidia to make compatible cards and drivers if we all go around saying that our ATI cards are the best—bar-none—for every purpose? Without this feedback, companies assume that we’re all supremely happy and have no suggestions on how they might better meet our needs as users.

Don’t get me wrong, ATPM readers. I think Steve made a good choice when he bought his G4. There’s plenty to feel good about there. He certainly has one of the finest personal computers a person can have—even for gaming. It’s just that there’s no need to exaggerate or ignore facts. (And someone should tell him that he could slap in a Voodoo3 card if he really wanted to.)

Alas, Scott’s Law of User Insanity is alive and well in both camps. To be sure, not all of us engage in this type of self-deception and propaganda to the degree that these two fictional characters do. But even a cursory perusal of certain newsgroups will tell you that there are no shortages of “Bills” and “Steves” out there. Even the best of us have engaged in this type of thinking from time to time.

We owe it to ourselves to stop these shenanigans. Ultimately we hurt ourselves when we engage in them. I hereby issue a call to computer users everywhere to stop the madness!

And for those of you who were wondering, I really am devastatingly handsome and also really smart for having bought my Macintosh.

Oh, and it goes without saying that Bill Gates really is the anti-Christ.

apple “User Preference” is copyright © 1999 Scott D. Feldstein, Scott D. Feldstein is a full-time techie at Marquete University where he also a graduate student in educational psychology.

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