*I feel I should point out up front that I wrote this piece on Tuesday morning, prior to the tragic news of Steve Jobs' death. Despite my clearly defined allegiance to the Cult of PC, it is impossible to minimize the impact Steve Jobs has had on the face of technology, computing and even the fabric of our culture. It is hard to imagine a world of technological innovation without Steve Jobs in it.*
A cold war rages in my home, a now nearly generational divide that has created occasional flash points of hostilities along hastily drawn borders. It is a conflict that on the surface seems clearly defined but belies deep complexities based on crude assumptions and age-old prejudices, and though there have been many olive branches extended through barred gates, the roots of bias run deep and hold fast.
Here’s the thing. My wife is a Mac person. I am not.
Detente is a meaningful word in my home, because despite the fact that the two platforms have become virtually indistinguishable from one another over the years, the dispute is no longer predicated on the reality of the situation. Now the debate is merely a series of tactical standoffs in which open hostility is only just barely averted. These skirmishes, in truth, are the exception as opposed to the rule, if only because we have seen what happens when such encounters spiral out of control.
So, when the need arises to bring more Apple products into the house, I generally bite my tongue and accept that the platform is ideal for my wife’s graphic-design roots. In return, she indulges me when I start talking about how much I want to replace my desktop, despite the fact that she has been exclusively portable for more than 3 years and can’t imagine the horror of being beholden to the confines of a desk.
I mention all of this only to illustrate my predisposition when we arrived at the Apple Store a week ago to replace my wife’s laptop.
When I paint the word-picture of my wife, I want you to remember this part. When my son last week spilled a full glass of orange juice onto my wife’s Macbook Pro, her immediate reaction was to comfort him and take responsibility for having the glass of juice anywhere near the laptop in the first place. This, despite the immediate sense of catastrophe that must have come from watching that pulpy liquid seep into the vulnerable spaces of a now doomed system. The result was unequivocal, and our response never wandered into the hopeless spaces of asking whether the system could be saved. It was immediately evident that we may have well tried to prevent the sun from setting. The only question was how best to rescue the data.
While I sat at work deliberately not trying to calculate costs in my head, a day was spent by my wife at the Apple “Genius Bar.” The geniuses, perhaps huddling in a conclave of super-intelligence suspended in a fourth-dimensional hyper cube, returned a verdict that matched ours, and by the afternoon we were well down a path of purchasing a new laptop and determining the best way to rebuild and restore as quickly as possible.
By the time I got home that afternoon, a lot of decisions had been made. We decided that our son was not at fault for any major transgression, and that the accident had not happened due to malice or irresponsibility on his part. We had decided to try and recover as much data as possible directly from the hard drive of the old computer. We had decided not to try and have them repair the machine, and we had decided to go back to the Apple Store and buy a replacement laptop.
Mac people, if I may grossly and perhaps inaccurately generalize for a moment, are not exactly my people. My religion is one in which DOS commands are holy texts. In the Mall of America, the Apple Store is directly across from a Microsoft Store, and the air between the two is electric, like standing between two high-powered, oppositely charged electromagnets. As I walked into the undiscovered country of silver and white, I immediately noticed how the staff seemed to maintain an impeccable image that I automatically interpreted as casual superiority. A trendy looking girl with nerd-goddess glasses intercepted me as we approached the back of the store — where the geniuses are perhaps held in suspended animation, their precious genes lovingly attended to by nanites — glanced down at her iPad and asked if she could help me in a way that would have been interpreted by a universal translator as, “You look like the sort of person who doesn’t have an appointment and probably shouldn’t be back here.”
At a nearby table, a twenty-something with spiky hair and scraggly facial hair that should have seemed disheveled except that it was so very meticulously made up to look such, was indulging a group of elderly people with basic computer instruction. Not a single person, customer or employee, seemed to not be holding some shiny, almost clinical-looking device. Everything, down to the iPads being used as glorified price tags for the demo computers, felt crafted to serve to a single image: the Apple image.
Two people emerged from the back and held extended discussions with my wife about transferring data from damaged drives to a new machine, and the potential hazards of countless possible incompatibilities between old and new operating systems, old and new versions of software, and old and new computers. Countless possible permutations were devised, discussed, disseminated and dismissed, and over the next hour and a half I had plenty of time to evaluate and judge my surroundings. As I sat on an aggrandized foam ball that apparently constituted a chair in this strange place, I felt a like a Stranger in a Strange Land. I began to tweet on my Android device of hipsters and pretensions.
After what felt like a very long time, I was happy to make my escape from this land of skinny jeans and ironic shirts, which is where the story should end leaving you and I both with familiar and tired cliches that for me too often make opaque the veil between what I interpret and the absolutely critical details.
Rewind for a moment and recall some important factors I just mentioned.
- My wife’s afternoon spent at the Genius Bar, working with people to figure out the best solution for her.
- Being greeted immediately and directed where I could get the most help upon arrival.
- The kid whose job it was to help people learn how to use their computer, working away patiently to provide human support.
- Two knowledgeable associates who spent more than an hour with my wife helping her figure out exactly what she needed and, more importantly, what would work.
- And, the one detail I did not actually provide to you yet: the person who stayed late that night to mount the damaged drive and accelerate the data transfer so she could have it for work the next day.
The result was a fully functioning replacement, set up to the specifications we requested and able to allow my wife to pick up her work seamlessly from where she left off. Sure, the people who came to my wife’s rescue that day may have seemed devout clerics of the Apple religion, but they also knew what the hell they were talking about and could analyze the situation with a high degree of both insight and accuracy.
I wondered, would I have received the same kind of response and support among “my people?” Would Microsoft Store employees have nearly leapt across the room to begin offering detailed analysis and more than an hour of customer service? If I walked up to the counter at my local Best Buy and employed the Geek Squad to my cause, how different would that experience have been? In a world where I am feeling left constantly wanting for genuine customer service, who the hell was I to walk into this space and unleash my internal salvos of disdain based on my own preconceptions?
In the end, though I remain unconverted to the cause, I must admit that I see much more clearly now some of the reasons that a person might choose to transact their business in an Apple Store before anywhere else.