I was installing a new Gmail client on my three-year-old MacBook Pro when I idly glanced at the guy sitting next to me at the café. He was beavering away on his own Pro, a top-of-the-line model, much newer than mine. I took him for a well-paid tech professional – until I snuck a peek at his Dock. Finder, Launchpad, Mission Control, iChat, iPhoto, GarageBand, iMovie, Photo Booth: There they were, all lined up, just like they are the day you first turn on your computer – you know, before you customise your Dock to get rid of the applications you don’t use and add the ones you do.
When I indignantly tweeted about it, my online pals argued for the tech equivalent of a citizen’s arrest. Why not force a trade, since this guy was clearly unworthy of his awesome new Mac? But I had to admit I’d already lost the war: More and more Mac users are complacent technology-takers, instead of inventive technology-makers.
Makers versus Takers
Unlike makers, takers do what they’re told. They leave their Macs in their default configurations. They buy every system upgrade the person at the Genius Bar recommends. Overwhelmed by the complexity of their alternatives, they retreat into the App Store, where the choices are made for them.
But there was a time when making complicated choices was the Mac user’s province and privilege; using a Mac forced you to take control of your own computer. My enthusiasm for Apple, combined with some operating constraints (residing in Canada, working in a Windows office, living on a budget), led me to tackle all sorts of crazy projects – jailbreaking an iPhone from the United States before it was available in Canada; hackintoshing a PC netbook because I couldn’t afford a MacBook Air; and on and on.
As time-consuming and frustrating as those experiments often were, they also made me an empowered Mac user – or, more accurately, an empowered technology user. The same fearlessness that enabled me to hack Macs and iPhones also empowered me to try new software, new tools, new services – and, more important, to reject the ones that didn’t work for me.
Is Simpler Better?
These days, being a Mac user just isn’t as hard as it used to be. The iPod, iPhone and iPad make it easier to be a Mac user, since so many iOS apps have Mac (but not necessarily Windows) counterparts. The advent of iCloud makes living an all-Mac lifestyle arguably the easiest option for a dedicated iPhone or iPad user who wants everything to just work.
However, you still need to make some choices – if not about the hardware you use, then about the software you allow on it, the networks you connect it to, the online services you use and the information you share. Some new Apple users may be ill equipped for those choices. They’re so spoiled by the effortless, self-contained and controlled experience of today’s Apple devices that they don’t know how to make their own rules.
But inventing your own path is essential, unless you want someone else – in IT or at the Apple Store – to decide the kind of phone you’ll get or the software tools that will be installed on (or barred from) your Mac.
Just as crucially, you need to decide what you won’t do: which emails you’ll leave unanswered, which social networks you’ll pass over, which software updates you’ll skip because, actually, things are working for you just fine the way they are. Technological passivity can just as easily cause you to work too hard and consume too much as it can leave you stale-dated and left behind.
Apple’s success at providing a great user experience could make passivity the new norm. Thanks to improvements in the range, functionality and usability of Apple’s products and services, even a multidevice freak like me can be lulled into making do with a locked-down iPhone, the simplicity of iCloud or the ease of a MacBook Air.
But I’m not willing to let Tim Cook call all the shots. So I’ll continue to run an idiosyncratic regime held together by an eclectic set of donationware, cloud- based applications and warranty-voiding jailbreaks that make each of my devices work the way I like. They make my Mac – my old, beat-up, gloriously retrofitted MacBook Pro – mine.
It’s a power and a joy that each Mac user can reclaim. You can start by customising that Dock.