I’m A Mac, and You’re An Asshole

It used to seem like the only things we’d really get fired up about in a partisan way were politics and sports teams. But ever since Apple’s “I’m A Mac” campaign, the spats between warring camps of technology purists has gotten personal..

I'm A Mac, and You're An Asshole

Wednesday Steve Jobs unveiled a host of new Apple products as well as an update for Mac’s operating system. Maybe the most talked-about announcement was the unveiling of a new MacBook Air, which Mashable describes as basically an iPad with a keyboard. (The announcement of “Facetime” for Mac sounds an awful lot like regular video IM to me.)

But what’s more interesting to me is the more human, emotional drama behind all these new gadgets. In recent weeks Steve Jobs has done a lot of shit-talking about his competitors, and his competitors have reciprocated the shit-talking right back, adding to the general acrimony in which Jobs has found himself embroiled since the release of the iPhone 4.

2010 may be remembered as the year Steve Jobs lost the benevolent veneer of the countercultural baby-boomer, and started to acquire the the decidedly more sour tone of a crotchety old kurmudgeon. But for all Jobs’s nasty person emails to journalists and his failure to issue an adequate apology after iPhone 4’s reception problems, 2010 was also a year in which sales skyrocketed. Apple has seemingly built a cult of personality who will keep buying undeterred by Jobs’s suddenly tenuous PR standing.

But regardless of how well-loved Apple products are by Americans, the fact remains that open-source design standards like that of Google’s Android do threaten to encroach on market share globally by offering more affordable devices and opening up the competition to third-party developers. At stake is not only Apple’s current $51 billion in cash reserves, but the future landscape of a smart-phone connected world, which is only now starting to take shape.

No wonder emotions are running high. RIM CEO Jim Balsillie, producer of the BlackBerry, greeted the fanfare of Apple’s new product announcement with a dour press release. “We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple,” he said. Jobs had boasted that BlackBerry sales would not be able to catch up with iPhone sales, and taken a pot-shot at BlacBerry’s new 7-inch tablet competitor to iPad, the PlayBook, saying it would be “dead on arrival.”

Balsillie shot back, saying that Apple’s grandstanding only told “half a story,” and said, “As usual, whether the subject is antennas, Flash or shipments, there is more to the story and sooner or later, even people inside the [Apple] distortion field will begin to resent being told half a story.”

That resentment can be felt in the way the owner of an outdated BlackBerry covets the luminous display of a new iPhone 4. As time goes on and the smartphone market spreads across the globe, different tiers of smartphone products may come to represent symbols of class status the way aspirational corners of otherwise-pervasive products do in other categories—like luxury cars, for instance. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from Western materialism, it’s that wherever you find aspirational luxury items, you find resentment and brand loyalty on both sides of the product divide.

I’m a Mac, and you’re an asshole—welcome to the twenty-first century.