Tools vs. Emotions: what’s your relationship with technology?

June 11, 2013, 3:36 pm

This is going to be a rare personal post. If you’re looking for your fill on libraries check the Bell Tower because I’m going somewhere else today.

Context is an interesting phenomenon. When conversations or attitudes from one space merge or are invaded from the outside, there is a good chance for misunderstanding to occur. This happened to me last night.

People who know me– people who really know me– know that I love Apple. I came into their products later in life via my wife, but I’ve never looked back. I am firmly and admittedly in the Cult of Mac.

Much of it has to do with brand and mythology. Steve Jobs was an amazing persona, but the early connection with IDEO is also special for me. Apple’s priority on design resonates with my user experience side and they talk about technology differently than everyone else… although yesterday’s WWDC was a little conventional—too much about numbers and features and not enough “wow”—I was hoping for the announcement of a new product category.

But Apple is more than just marketing hype. Their products truly are amazing. When I used Windows I often encountered BSOD. There were many other performance issues that I won’t get into, but let’s just say I was an unsatisfied customer. I did publically praise their boldness with tiles, but I seem to be one of the few who actually likes that new direction

So is this really about technology? JJ Abrams summed it up well when talking about his work:

“What can I write that’ll be worthy of my beautiful black Macbook?”

I feel something similar. And while I know it is psychological, it impacts me. When I was writing my book the HP I had kept crashing. It was obviously a very frustrating experience. So I switched to Dell and that crashed too. The entire writing process from that project is mired in negative memories because of the technology obstacles.

Switching to Apple not only wiped away those issues but also infused a different type of emotion into my work. I could never have written startup on a Windows-based machine. I could not follow GTD without my iPhone. And it’s getting harder and harder for me to read constructively without the text being on my iPad and the related ecosystem.

For me, personally, using Apple products is a powerful stimulant for creativity and productivity. It is probably similar to Nike. It’s not the shoes that make athletes better, it is the way the athlete feels about himself while wearing those shoes. In short: it’s about confidence and attitude. I physically and emotionally feel different when using Apple than I do Microsoft. I can’t explain it beyond that.

Getting to the point

A colleague posted that she was excited about iOS7. There were a handful of expected responses and I chimed in with my typical pro-Apple anti-Microsoft commentary. But then someone jumped in and used the term “EVIL” when describing Apple fanaticism. This person went on to say:

“if you were *really* happy with Apple products, you wouldn’t feel the need to put down anybody who doesn’t use them.”

This is where context comes into play. Obviously this person doesn’t know me or he would know that I genuinely love Apple products. Secondly, this person had no context for the conversation. For me, talking about technology is very similar to talking about sports. Yankees and Sox. Michigan and Ohio State. Lakers and Celtics.

Part of the fun is all the bravado and allegiance to a brand. I have friends (and even a family member) who love Microsoft and this is an established part of our relationship: we bash each other’s teams or brands– sports, technology, music, even philosophers. This is the context that I was using. This person obviously didn’t get that and even when so far as posting:

 “Maybe someday you’ll gain inner peace and stop telling us we’re wrong if we disagree.”

Not sure the “us” he was referring to. I could take that so many different directions but I feel like he was baiting me rather than trying to have a serious conversation. Obviously there is a lack of humor in his understanding. And I’ll just say, one should not focus solely on inner peace but also develop their outer peace too. Be holistic!

If this were a random person I would not be posting today. The fact is, this is a person I admired when I was in library school. His writing is very different and he has strong control of voice and identity. Even though I don’t always agree with his content, I admire his style. He’s put out a lot of great stuff. So I’m feeling very conflicted here. What do you do when a former idol talks down to you? That’s where my mind has been this morning.

Tools vs. Emotions 

Why do I feel differently about technology than he does? Perhaps the keyword is right there: feel. Our personal and emotional investment is very different, perhaps, making it impossible for us to understand each other?

This is something I’ve encountered before. I’ve heard faculty refer to technology as “just a tool and nothing else.” I’ve heard colleagues refer to iPads as toys. I’ve heard countless IT professionals talk about managing technology and managing users, rather than empowering people to do amazing things.

I know there are some really creative people who use and love Microsoft, but generally when I hear them talk it, it is about a functional relationship. For me, technology is an emotional relationship.

This was evident to me when I recently cracked an iPad. I knew my content was backed up and that I could easily purchase a new one, but there was this odd bond that I had formed with the device. The reaction was different than if I had broken a hammer or a screwdriver.

Apple products are my interface, my canvas, my lab. They are my ideation center. They are my channel for exploring, discovering, composing, designing, and sharing. I don’t feel that way about a tape measure, a spatula, or a bucket. Apple products are not tools to me—they are an essential part of my creative process.

The person who made those comments views technology as a means to an end. He is a self-described tool-user. Technology is used for solving problems. And that’s the key difference between us. Computers are a means of expression for me, not a means to an end, not a work processor or a spreadsheet. It is a highly personal thing—like how one feels about a band or a sports team. To some people this is just a shirt, but to others is something more meaningful.

I can’t expect people to understand my feelings about machines, but likewise, it is hard for me to understand people who feel this just a machine.


Ok, back to library and higher education topics next time. I’m filing this post away as therapy. I would disable the comments if I could, but the Chronicle controls the settings. Thanks for reading.

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