Category Archives: Psychology

The Apple Mac: It’s a religion…

It has been explained by writers better than I how our minds are wired in a way that makes them vulnerable to religion.

Whether it is our desire to feel secure or have simple and complete explanations for natural phenomena or simply because we enjoy the social scene at church, there is no doubting the power of the effect. Even in modern times, entire lives, indeed entire civilizations are devoted to the superstitious concept of supernatural Gods.

Although L. Ron Hubbard may have started a religion while knowing it was all a sham, most religions did not need such deliberate action. Our innate need to have faith in things has allowed religious concepts to emerge and evolve freely in our communities as far back as records go.

So why do I bring that up?

It occurred to me today while pondering why people are so defensive about Apple Mac computers – I realised that their behaviour had much in common with religious ‘zeal’.

Then it occurred to me how much the success of Apple relies on perception and conception. If it was just about getting the fastest computer, you would not buy a Mac. If it was about buying something that has wide compatibility, you would not buy a Mac. If it was about cost, you certainly would not buy a Mac.

Some might argue that Macs are more intuitive and ‘easy to use’. These are people whose idea of computing is buying a shiny box, plugging it in and doing exactly what they are expected to do. They are people who just accept it when they are told they need to buy a new printer. Or worse, they blame the printer – what a crappy printer, not compatible! These are people who do not need to set up a complex network, or run a database server.

Anyone who has a Powerbook G4 that cost several grand and is not actually compatible with the latest OSX release, yet needs that OSX release in order to actually work, and still hugs and caresses the machine as it it were a newborn baby while defending its honour and wanting to spend another several grand on a newer shinier one, is, in my opinion, dabbling in a cult.

OK, before you write me off as some sort of anti-mac fanatic, I will admit they are beautiful.

Moving swiftly on, I think it is worth analysing Apple’s success.

How does a company that controls the details of their products so completely compete with a product (the PC) that is made by hundreds of companies all constantly competing, innovating, coming and going, rising and falling? The modular design of the PC allows almost anyone to buy all the bits and assemble the machine themselves; with so many companies making monitors and keyboards and hard drives, some will make bad (fatal) decisions and die, some will make good decisions and thrive and if there are enough upstarts to keep up the supply, the consumer will only ever see the winners, even if their victory was a flook, it was a victory none the less.

You could say that PC is the computer you get from natural selection (survival of the fittest), the Mac is the the computer you get when you try to control the evolution (unnatural selection).

Now a company that tries to make everything itself can capture the value chain, sure, but as it is only one company, it cannot make even one fatal decision, and thus needs to be a little more cautious. This means it is doomed to always lag slightly on the performance vs value curve – so what does it do?

Easy, get the consumer to accept poor value. Make up for performance by buying in high quality technologies (lcd screens, hard disks, etc), and make the customer pay the premium. Then focus on marketing.

Marketing is the art of making people want something. It is unnecessary for products people need.

So what happened at Apple?

Apple, perhaps by good luck, became perceived as a David vs the Goliaths of IBM and Microsoft. For some reason (was it deliberate?) Apple computers gained traction in music recording and graphic design, and gained a sort of bohemian chic that is rather impressive considering that it is essentially “Big Business” and, like most companies, designed to make money.

Clever partnerships, and particularly the inspired partnership with Adobe (think Acrobat PDF’s, think PhotoShop) strengthened their position with journalists, publishers and illustrators establishing the Mac as the creative profession’s computer of choice.

This turned out to be a good thing, as the naughties have been the most art friendly decade yet, as popular culture has come to resent things like ‘work’ and ‘industry’, and a certain sections of society have come to view activities like sport as trivial and meaningless when compared to the value and depth in culture, poetry, good food, yoga, spiritualism and so on.

In other words, the artists have moved up in the world.

Some of the more switched on folk will realise that brands like Gucci/Armani/Christian Dior or Ferrari/Porche/Aston Martin  or Rolex/Michel Herbelin/Patek Philippe are based entirely on massaging the egos of their customers, and in the last case, they probably don’t even keep better time than a black plastic Casio.

But not many of the arty crowd have realised that Apple is using their independent nature against them. The Mac user seems to be infected with the idea that in using a Mac they are somehow being beneficent to the world, will somehow be more creative, they they are part of some loving brotherhood that has exclusive access to the truth and the light.

This is because, by accident or design, the Apple brand has been developed to find that part of our mind that wants to believe and wants to belong, and is easily dazzled; the brand is acting like a religion.


Apple’s alliance with artists continues with U2 and the Black Eyes Peas, both highly credible symbols of free-thinking modernism. But I want you to ask yourself: what is free thinking about this computer company? I’m not sure, but I suspect the only free-thinking thing about Apple is its association with icons of the free-thinking world. It is just an electronics company for Pete’s sake. Like Sony, like Samsung, like Nokia.

If you believe there is any more to it than that, then you are welcome to pay for it.


PS: Besides the defunct G4 in the drawer, there is also an iPod classic in my home. I like it. I like to hold it. Mmm.

Evil: a baseless construct

This morning on BBC Radio 4’s “Though for the day”, the Right Reverend James Jones claimed “Evil triumphs when the imagination is inebriated with evil”.

So as a logician I would like to know what exactly “evil” is. Can it be measured (like energy)? Or detected by our (5) senses? Does it conform to the known laws (models) of physics?

For something so darn vague it is amazing how much we use it day to day. We blame so much on it, and justify so much in its name.

But in a strange dichotomy, if you pay close attention the the professions (medicine, law, engineering, etc) you will find scant mention of this concept – it does not help in the treatment of criminals or the mentally ill it does not explain earthquakes or building collapses – it seems has no use in the real world, but is used by politicians and preachers like a moral blank-cheque.

I therefore suggest that the concept of evil is a relic from a mystical past in which gods were invoked to explain thunder and demons to explain crop failure.

Surely all talk of someone being ‘evil’ or an act being ‘evil’ has no place in our secular world?

The psychology of submission to authority

What does not surviving a plane crash have to do with the “medicalisation” of childbirth? I would argue that they are both examples of how we are losing our ability to take our fate into our own hands.

When a plane crashes, some passengers die because they are waiting to be saved while those that act to save themselves are more likely to survive [1]. 

Why? Because when people hand control over of others, they find it hard to take it back again. 

So it is as you queue on the phone to buy plane tickets, you queue to check in, you queue through security, you walk down long corridors, you queue again.

To some real extent, this process is a bit like being brainwashed – it is a series of mental triggers that you are in a system, you are a subject, you are not in control. You have become a sheep.

This in itself is not a bad thing. It helps the systems to work if the people can be controlled, and certainly nothing sinister is intended; however it does mean that if the plane crashes we will be more inclined to wait for instructions than fight our way to the door.

A similar effect can play out during childbirth.  Mothers who undergo cesarean subjugate themselves to the system and in handing over responsibility, may well find taking the child back after it is cleaned-up more psychologically challenging, and are thus more likely to turn to authority (nurses, midwives etc) for help with routine things like breastfeeding and washing the baby, rather than assume responsibility; their confidence is thus eroded by the process of subjugation.

I propose therefore that both on air flights and in the maternity ward, we should do what we can to keep people in control – or at least thinking they are…


[1] I read this claim in last week’s Sunday Times, but can’t find a reference online. However, this article hints at similar claims:,9171,1053663,00.html