Apple versus PC debate: when does a learning tool become a status symbol?

The Church of Apple (photo by author)

“Once you go mac, you never go back.” – The battle cry of the apple groupie.

When I posted on the Orewa College debate a few months ago,I found myself incensed that most of the focus seemed to be on the device itself rather than on what the kids could do with them. However the flip side to the ‘ZOMG why would students ever need an ipad to learn’ teeth gnashing are Apple groupies who will tell you repeatedly about how wonderful their iphone/ipad/ipod is.

Let me state from the outset that my beef isn’t about the product Apple produces. The first computer I ever used back in the 1980s was a Macintosh and I continue to be impressed that my 2nd gen nano is still going strong after 5 years of brutal use. However the reason I found myself ‘back’ to PC was quite simple, I started paying for my computers.  And once I started paying I quickly realized that a PC will fit my needs for a couple of hundred dollars less than an Apple which means more money for plane tickets to awesome places.

This is where Apple’s propaganda kicks in. Apple has long been really popular with graphic designers and the release of final cut pro made it the go-to brand for film editors.  Hence why my film editor brother and graphic designer sister are apple users while I’m plugging away on a PC.

What the company has been brilliant at cultivating is the idea that PCs are for lowly, poor and unimaginative people with boring jobs while Apples are for clever, creative types who like modern music and don’t wear suits to work.  It’s a genius marketing ploy really. Apple uses its popularity with the creative industry to fool the rest of us into thinking we can be hip through consuming their product and gets the user to do its advertising.  Somehow sending an email or a posting a facebook update seems so much cooler when it is done on an ipad than a boring old PC.

This isn’t just a problem within education or unique to Apple.

In an era of global mass-production humans don’t compete for resources they way we did in the past. We no longer locally produce items by hand, instead we pick from the same selection of goods as everyone else on the planet. When I bought my nano in Seoul I knew it would be the same as the ones on offer in New Zealand and New York. And because of this global standardization of product people  often define their personalities on how good their taste is, or how clever their choices are.

Having a dissenting opinion on food, books or clothes, or  computing device is the way middle class people fight each other for status. We can’t out-consume each other because we can’t afford to, but we can and do compete with each other about making the ‘right’ consumer choice.

I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past. I looked down my blogging nose at people using blogger. High-volume traffic blogs use wordpress so I must be clever for using wordpress aren’t I special snowflake lalala. Of course people don’t come to my blog or yours on account of the blogging platform used, they come from content and connection. The platform doesn’t matter its what you do with it that counts.

Likewise if you’ve read this far, I’m sure you don’t really care that I’m writing my rant on a Dell Inspiron.  I doubt anyone would take me seriously that my writing is better or more my blog more creative because I’m using a bright pink laptop to create it. Because ultimately we know blogging is about a creative thought process not consuming the ‘right’ product. Which makes me wonder when people start waxing lyrical about devices if they know why they purchased the thing in the first place.

To be clear, I don’t see consumption as a bad thing and I don’t really care if you put your iphone on the mantle next to a 5 dollar note and a picture of Steve Jobs for daily worship if you think the device meets your spiritual needs. But I do think that educators need to clearly articulate what is driving our consumer values rather than extolling the virtues of the device in and of itself.

Perhaps you’re after getting large numbers of devices into hands of students in which case you’ll be going after generic netbooks rather than branded Interactive White Boards. Maybe you are passionate about  your students developing code in which case you want another brand of tablet from ipad so your students can use open source software. Or maybe having a bunch of touches is great so that your kids can use some great maths apps. Consuming isn’t the problem, mindless consumption is.

A few generations ago the things people owned were usually things either they handmade, or were things other people made by hand. In that era people were often defined by their work, by their output, not what the tools they used. Hopefully in a few years we’ll look back on the turf wars between computer brands and wonder what the fuss was about.

Because it’s about the learning, not the brand.

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About Stephanie

Stephanie is a teacher of a fabulous class of year 7/8 students (11-13 year olds). She bakes, goes to the gym and geeks out in Wellington, New Zealand.

Posted on November 7, 2011, in education 2.0 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I stopped reading as soon as you said Dell Inspiron. :)

    Seriously though…great post. We’re a Mac school, and have iPods and iPads also…but really the game changer for us has been how we use Google Apps.

    Fully agreed…much more important to think about how we use the tool, and when I plan with teachers…I rarely, if ever, think how Apple is going to make it work.

    Thanks for this..will share with peers tomorrow.

    @RobinThailand

    • Hi Rob,
      Thanks for stopping by. I think that sometimes it is easy for us to become so enamored with the brand and hype that we forget what the purpose of the device is. Hopefully as these tools become mainstream we won’t even think about the why it seems so important.

      Thanks again for your comment
      Stephanie

  2. I’m currently teaching at a Mac school, that has fancy looking Mac computers, that have cost a lot of money. I used to be at another school that used very cheap pc’s that were not nearly as nice to look at.

    But I’m a maths and stats teacher, and I don’t really care what they look like. I just want them to work, and be available. At my last school we had enough computers that I missed out on getting a room when I wanted one only twice in the whole year. I was timetabled in a computer room for the entire topic for the internals for stats (which is important, because the assessments are done on computer). At the current school I am forced to make do with only 2 or 3 periods in the computer room.

    The majority of what I want to do can be done on a very cheap computer, provided it has a copy of excel on it.

    Outside of doing maths things, 95% of what I use my computer for is done through the browser, making the brand of computer completely irrelevant.

    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for stopping by. I think schools do need to be very careful about what the purpose of the purchase is. Of course there’s a horrible circle that we can get into when teachers aren’t using the technology and don’t what it is can and should be introduced. It is about listening very carefully to the needs before making purchases.

      Stepahnie

  3. I have just starting using a Mac for the first time. I have to admit, I am a convert. That said, if I hadn’t been able to afford a Macbook I would have happily got another pc. My son’s school distributes iPads to Year 9 student (he gets his in the new year), previously they received netbooks. Husband is quite the Apple convert now with his (work supplied) iPhone, iPad2 and MacBookPro.

    • Hi Bri,
      I think first-time users probably go through a squee mac is awesome phase. But you are right cost being a factor educators in particular need to be sure we are getting the best bang for our buck.

      Stephanie

  4. You’re right about WordPress. The only advantage of Blogger is that simple folk like myself can work out how to use it! ;-)

  1. Pingback: The post in which I come out as an Apple Groupie « Teaching the Teacher

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