Arranging the flowers: why Mac?

Why is this blog about Mac? What does a type of computer have to do with your focus, creativity and productivity? Isn’t it just a tool to store and transmit information? My answer is in the Zen saying I recently found on Prezi website.

“When the flower arranger arranges the flowers, he also arranges his mind and the mind of the person who looks at the flowers.”

A computer is not only a tool, it also arranges your mind. More prosaically, in the 5minds blog I wrote that a tool is not only a technique but also a ‘practice’, inseparable from a ‘community of practice’: people using and developing the tool. This also applies to personal computers which enable users and developers to learn from each other. For example, think how we learn typographic formatting through word processors, or citation standards through reference managers. And here comes a trick! What you learn and from whom depends upon which computer you use.

To be exact, if you use Windows PC, most of the things you learn are probably from Microsoft. This is a great company, but their lessons about productivity or creativity have never inspired me. I have never come in touch with any enthusiastic users of MS Word or PowerPoint or Internet Explorer who would teach me anything useful. Perhaps, because such users are diluted in a vast sea of people who do not really care about the work they do on their computers. They are happy with such standard solutions as Microsoft Word which is supposed to be good for everyone: a secretary, a science fiction writer, a student taking class notes, and a sales person developing a product leaflet. Well, something which seeks to be good for anyone is often mediocre to everyone. And what would I learn from how a bored secretary uses his MS Word?

The Mac community are different in that they are creative and enthusiastic even when they are at their computers. They won’t put up with wasting their time waiting for a clumsy software bloated with unnecessary features to boot. They won’t tolerate ugly or cluttered interface. They would rather use their time to express their ideas than to search for the right command through endless menus. They are not afraid to experiment and to constantly look for more elegant solutions. And the main advantage of using Mac for me is to learn from such people!

My main connection to the Mac community is through the Mac Power Users podcast by David Sparks and Katie Floyd. Through their 50-some episodes I learned virtually every piece of software I currently use, including the Mac Ninja Kit. Through colleagues using Mac, I was introduced to Scrivener, Sente and other academic software. I also listen to the Back to Work podcast by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin. Of course, I learn much more than simply keyboard shortcuts: from dealing with the email inbox to dealing with procrastination.

The world of Mac is amazing because it is not dominated by one big company such a Microsoft. Instead there is a competition of small developers offering dozens of solutions to every possible task. Their products are challenged and compared by uncompromising users who are prepared to try, experiment, fail and learn. The users and the developers are not separated: in fact many Mac products are designed by users themselves (e.g. Scrivener by a novel and film script writer).

Of course this does not apply to all Mac users. There are plenty of people who do not care about their Macs more than the majority of Windows PC-users care about their computers. You can easily recognize such people by asking them what software they use. They would often not even understand the question. Of course, they use Word and PowerPoint and Outlook! Is there any other software in the world? We wish such people to enjoy their Macs too: at the end of the day it is a fast, reliable and virus-free computer.

For Mac users who want to go beyond this, reflect on the Zen saying I quote in the beginning of this posts. Computers are not merely tools, they arrange your mind. Since I started to use Mac I have a great feeling that my mind is no longer arranged by Microsoft. Instead I arrange it myself taking cues from like-minded people proud of being alive when they are working on their computers.


About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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8 Responses to Arranging the flowers: why Mac?

  1. Pingback: Why Macademic? | Academic workflows on Mac

  2. Csaba says:

    Many people could never care less about the software they use or the user interfaces they need to stare at on a daily basis. And that’s ok. I perfectly understand that e.g. font anti-aliasing is not something an ordinary person would want to know about…at least consciously not so. And I am willing to pay extra to have nice on-screen fonts. As crazy as that may sound, but it is important to me and working on a PC is aesthetically painful for me. I never actually measured it, but i firmly believe that the looks have an impact on my productivity. Maybe that is what they call user experience. You can call me a fan boy, but I never had to be sold on Apple, because I was seeking that good experience way before I heard any advertising message from them.
    Fonts even got a mention in Steve’s graduation ceremony speech at Stanford. He highlighted how calligraphy (and design in general) was a major aspect of his thinking about computers.


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