Complaining about computers and consumer cults

I haven’t had much luck with laptops over the past couple of years. I’m not even sure I should admit that, because whenever I talk about computer woes online, the Mac people come out of the woodwork to say that the solution to my problem, no matter what it is, is to buy one of their computers. Worse yet, every new issue I’ve got to deal with makes me more inclined to think they’ve got a point.

My current PC, a Dell Studio, is hobbled by a host of problems. Two of its three USB ports don’t work, the left mouse button clicks at random, the casing is damaged, the battery is reaching the end of its usable life, the hardware overheats under pressure, and it shuts itself off whenever you try to move it. Plus, it came with Vista.

I bought this computer about a year ago. I was lucky enough to place a support call to Dell three days before the warranty would have expired, and I’m now in the process of following up about my options. But with a gig or two coming up shortly, and some pretty major deadlines at the office, it’s not a great time to have to go without a laptop.

As a temporary solution, I’ve started copying all my files over to an old Vaio. It’ll get the job done while they do whatever they need to do with my Dell, but it’s by no means a long term solution. It’s the computer that prompted me to give up and buy the Dell in the first place, and although it’s already been repaired a couple of times, you’d never know it. The battery’s a joke, the AC adapter is unreliable, neither of its two USB ports work reliably, every boot is a coin toss, it stalls on perfectly level surfaces, and its memory makes the guy from Memento look like… I don’t know, some kind of magical memory man. I also haven’t been able to turn it on all day, so wish me luck on that one.

The Vaio’s not an old machine either. I’d say I bought it three years ago at the most. And it’s not like I’m just bashing these laptops against every available surface, you know? These are the results of everyday wear and tear.

That, plus a series of increasingly patronizing ad campaigns that have at least gotten back to focusing on adults with work to do instead of cute kids who love making slideshows, is basically why the Mac people are starting to win me over. It’s taken them years to do it, and they’ve had a lot of help from a lot of the more incompetent players in the PC sector, but there you are.

One problem with this advice, of course, is that shelling out a bunch of money for one of the more expensive computers on the market may be a good idea in the long run, but it’s not exactly the best solution to a short-term problem. Especially if you happen to be on a budget. With all due respect, it’s also the advice I tend to get from people who, by their very nature, don’t know a lot about PCs and can’t actually give me any real advice on how to solve my specific problem. So at best, I’ve got to take it with a grain of salt.

Meanwhile, it’s hardly fair to write off the PC in general based on a few manufacturers and operating systems. When I first complained about my Dell issues, most of the sympathetic PC users I heard from said that they’d gone through the same kind of thing with Dell, and that they’ve been much happier since they decided to take their business elsewhere. A lot of them had nothing but good things to say about Hewlett Packard, for example.

But to be honest, as silly as it is, the main reason I’m reluctant to buy a Mac is that I don’t want to join that cult. I don’t want to be the guy who can’t stop going on about how much his computer rocks, and what an innovative company Apple is, and how one day the Classic will return to judge the righteous and punish the wicked. No disrespect to the Mac users out there, but I just can’t go down that road.

Let me put it to you this way. I’ve been a vegetarian for about five years now, and as much as I think everybody ought to give it a shot, I don’t like to push anybody to become one. Why? Because I would have become one myself much sooner if the vast majority of vocal vegetarians I knew at the time weren’t a bunch of insufferable, self-righteous assholes. I was so afraid of becoming one of those people that it took me much longer than it should have to open myself up to the general idea of vegetarianism. That’s not to say I’m not still insufferable now and then about my diet or anything else, but you know what I mean.

I’m always happy to hear from a Mac user with good advice to share, and just as I’d like to see more vegetarians out there, I think it would be cool if more people knew they had more options than the typical PC setup. But I’ll tell the true fanatics the same thing I told the folks at PETA: if you really want to win people over, you’ve got to stop coming off like a bunch of creepy, ill-informed jackasses.

The bottom line, however, is that I’m sick of my computer situation. I mean, I’m sorry, but this is bullshit. The jackasses may have a point. Something’s got to be done.

Frankly, I’m starting to wonder how difficult it would actually be to build my own computer. Not only would it be a pretty cool thing to do, but I’d end up with more knowledge and more of a sense of ownership over what’s going on inside my machine. Hell, I might even save a little money. I really think this might be something to look into.

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6 Responses to “Complaining about computers and consumer cults”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Dude, get a Mac.

  2. Matt says:

    Argh! Damn your eyes! I knew that was going to happen within minutes!

  3. ramanan says:

    If you spend a good chunk of time with your machine, it doesn’t seem like a good thing to cheap out on. As for buying a Mac, they make nicer machines and the operating system is a big step up from Windows. It’s also all based on Unix, so for all your web development work it’d be MUCH easier to do things locally. I would imagine that turntable software you use is available for the Mac as well, but that would be the only issue I can think of.

  4. Matt says:

    Ram, you’re actually one of the people that comes to mind when I think of Mac people with genuinely pragmatic advice to offer.

    The “don’t cheap out on your machine” argument is a good one for sure, but it’s unfortunately got to compete with the “don’t go into debt” argument these days. And the Unix base would indeed be awesome when it comes to my day job and my other web stuff, I’ll give you that.

    And yes, Macs are generally the way to go as far as DJ tech is concerned. Serato, for example, runs adequately on XP, but it’s a chore to run it on Vista. The occasions I’ve run it live on a Mac – DJs on the same bill often share gear the way drummers might share a kit – have been very encouraging indeed.

    Obviously, I’m being a bit tongue in cheek when I say I don’t want to buy a Mac because of the person I fear I’d become. I’m open to the option, and as crazy as it may sound, it’s a choice between that and building my own machine at the moment. I’m weighing the pros and cons, and of course I welcome everyone’s opinions.

  5. jason says:

    Two points here.

    1. Apple doesn’t licence their plans out to anyone, which means they tightly control everything, partswise, that goes into their products. I’ve had my iBook G4 for almost four years, it seems pretty durable, and I don’t think I’m that much of a d-bag because of it. (Most of my d-baggery probably comes from me running Linux as well.)

    2. Building your own computer isn’t so hard — I’ve put a few together myself, including the one I’m using presently — but you sorta have to know what you’re doing. Also, building a laptop doesn’t really work, because you can’t get the parts off the shelf. But hey, this one I’m using cost me less than $300, with a goodly amount of memory and a roomy hard drive, so that ain’t bad.

  6. Matt says:

    Those are two good points indeed. I wasn’t aware that you couldn’t get laptop parts off the shelf, and that certainly does take a lot of the appeal out of the idea. As does the whole “you’d have to know what you’re doing” thing.