Whether we like it or not, shallow ideas can be readily assimilated while ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world, or in Apple-speak Think Different, inevitably provoke hostility. As Tolstoy observed, most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions that they have proudly taught others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

I don’t know whether or not Apple is still actively running its Switcher programme, but recently there has been a number of stories in the press about prominent PC users who’ve finally seen the light, despite the fabric of thought that they’ve woven, or had woven around them by the Microsoft menagerie, and have switched to the Mac. Like the majority of Windows users, most of these users had suffered the “blue screen of death”, lost hours of writing to files that then just vanished or refused to open, and increasingly witnessed the havoc wrought by a plethora of viruses. For the record, there are no known viruses that affect Mac OS X and, for people whose Windows machines are regularly dragged through roofing tar by ever-larger antivirus software, this alone should be a reason to switch. If you add to that the significance of the awards given to Apple for design and style, it’s not difficult to reach the conclusion that good product design leads to a better user experience on every level. That is, if you can admit the falsity of your previous conclusions.

Despite the PC industry hype to the contrary and the long tradition of Microsoft FUD, Macs do deliver a sense of security and safety with not even a sniff of system meltdown. The software and security updates are easy, convenient and fast and the considerable computing power and massive processing going on under the bonnet still run rings around the Pentiums while managing to deliver an unaccustomed feeling of security behind the OS X firewall and a router with, as mentioned earlier, no need for antivirus software.

Microsoft realized quite early on that shallow ideas can be readily assimilated and, that in a perverse and twisted way, misery loves company. PC users who’ve suffered with sloppy Microsoft software and wonky versions of Windows become dogmatic zealots when it comes to convincing new users that if they buy anything other than a Windows PC, the moon will fall out of the sky. And, since the majority of computer users worldwide have somehow bought into this fantasy, even the most simple and obvious truth is rarely enough to convince them to end their suffering and start using their pineal gland.
I probably wrote something in a previous column about the concept that suggests that real information is something that tells us something we didn’t already know – not something that anecdotally reinforces or props up a belief we’ve already acquired or had foisted upon us through casual consensus. But when we live in a world where anecdotal hearsay is commonly mistaken as fact, acquiring real information requires real effort and a certain willingness to accept that what we think we believe might actually be wrong. This problem is further exacerbated by popular consensus that mistakenly leads us to believe that because most people think a certain way, then to fit in, perhaps we should too.

As we see daily, logic and creative free-thinking sit uncomfortably in an environment where fear and deionization are the most successful and popular tools of control. And despite the apparent accessibility of real information, the herd always looks like a safe refuge to the sheep. For example, exercising a randomly broad benefit of the doubt, let’s look at something like the 18th amendment that introduced prohibition in the US. Sure, it was undoubtedly voted for and approved of by a lot of people who were somehow convinced that within a few weeks, everybody would smash their remaining booze bottles against the wall and take the pledge of repentance. Of course, that didn’t happen – and what apparently looked like a popular consensus, rapidly made criminals out of most of the people who supported it to begin with. Finally, when it was rendered completely unworkable, the whole thing was repealed and everybody pretended they hadn’t screwed up in the first place.

Unfortunately, the world is still too full of people who think they can manipulate the lives of others merely by getting a law passed or by making a behaviour they don’t approve of or understand into some sort of syndrome or ‘treatable problem’. There’s a growing number of people in the US and even here in the UK who, if they can get away with it, would prohibit the use of everything that they didn’t personally approve of – smoking, drinking, dancing, going to particular movies, eating Italian salami, and, if they could figure out how to regulate it, even love. For those of you who haven’t seen all the gangster films, prohibition didn’t stop anybody from drinking. All it managed to do was make criminals out of those who voted it in and create the big-league hoodlums who today are almost as powerful as the government. Or, depending on your point of view, perhaps the same politicians who are in government.

It’s not just the world of PCs and Macs that is infused with the falsity of conclusions that have proudly been taught to others and which have been woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of all of our lives. Instilling a vague and unsubstantiated fear to achieve a corrupt or dubious end is not the same as exchanging information. It’s what they used to call propaganda or brain-washing when it was done by the ‘bad guys’. These days, we just accept it as marketing and PR.

According to McLuhan, World War III will be a guerrilla information war, with no division between military and civilian participation. And since it’s an ongoing war where shallow ideas are readily assimilated while ideas that require us to reorganize our picture of the world increasingly provoke hostility, it’s probably not healthy to treat it like a spectator sport. This time, participation is mandatory. MW