This article was originally published on my Wordpress blog on January 30th, 2014, as an assigment for my Winter Term Media Studies class with the byline: "Alex Anderlik is a senior in the Class of 2014 at Phillips Academy but hails from Missoula, Montana. When he's not wasting time on the Internet, he's trying to figure out how to waste more time on the Internet. You can reach him at google.com/+AlexAnderlik."
As a technophile who undoubtedly spends way too much time on the Internet, I have been to the brutal, bloody front lines of the fanboy wars which have sprung around computer corporation kings like Microsoft, Apple, and Google. My so-called allegiance has shifted between them frequently enough to be partly aware of the reasons consumers so eagerly offer themselves up as apparently little more than pawns in this corporate chess game.
The first time I really paid attention to branding in technology was on my Revisit Day tour in the spring of my 8th grade. It was my first visit to Andover, and I was stunned by the number of gadgets Phillips Academy students were carrying around in their pockets. It seemed as if everyone had a laptop and everyone had a smartphone; furthermore, every single gadget sported an Apple logo as if the company had signed a product-placement agreement with Andover.
I very rapidly developed an obsession for Apple. Everything on their website seemed so beautiful, so elegant, so magical – after all, those words plastered in 70-point font on top of shiny white product images were about the only things I could find. Next to my dumpy brick of an aged PC, these glimmering and extremely unaffordable MacBooks became, in my mind, the pinnacle of technological achievement. Suddenly, I felt as if I couldn’t enjoy using a computer without the crisp, seamless intuitiveness of Apple.
My grandmother bought me an iPhone as a congratulatory present when I returned to campus in the fall (though it could hardly be called a gift considering the bottomless financial pit of an AT&T contract it had pushed me into!) and the financial aid office even gave me a Dell laptop. I was thrilled to have been given an entire computer of my own, but from the very first day I noticed how conspicuous having a full scholarship could be. It seemed like everyone else got to own those literally glowing Apple slices of shiny, unibody perfection.
Until I got that iPhone I had never really used any Apple products, yet I had already fallen in love with them. From the perspective of an Apple fanboy, everything is about beauty. Owning an Apple product is owning a premium product. To own a premium product one must be wealthy, tasteful, and sophisticated. In other words, a premium person.
For me, having an iPhone wasn’t about being productive or even staying connected with my friends. I had an iPhone because it was pleasing to look at, and fun to touch. It was a wonderful toy which made me feel like I had something important. I suddenly had an all-access pass to the world of apps like Angry Birds which I had only been able to experience as an outsider beforehand.
The shine began to fade when I actually started using Apple products. Having grown up entirely on a Windows computer, OS X felt like the opposite of intuitive. The toolbar at the bottom was a mess, lurching up and down and back and forth as I tried in vain to find Internet Explorer. Icons would literally bounce to get your attention, and Apple has yet to make the green “+” button actually fill up the screen. Apple, it seemed, was so committed to its artsiness that it made a cluttered desktop part of the experience.
The realization that “intuitive” technology really just means stuff you’ve already learned how to use caused me to question the other words I’d taken for granted. “Beautiful.” “Amazing.” “Magic.” Suddenly, I understood that those words were Apple’s opinion, not mine. My iPhone slowed down with the passage of time, and by the time I dropped the phone hard enough for the glass to crack, I was so used to seeing broken iPhones that my first reaction was simply “It’s about time.”
I made the tough decision to make my next phone an Android.“Ecosystem” is appropriately used to describe consumer operating systems, because getting an Android phone also meant getting a new music provider, app library, text messaging client, e-mail client, and web browser. It was practically a change in lifestyle.
The difference in my life between Apple and Google is that the more I learned and thought about Google, the more I liked the company as a whole. Where Apple was closed, Google was open.Open-source software. Different hardware manufacturers. Different home screens. Different keyboards. There was barely anything on my phone that couldn’t be changed to fit my tastes. I could choose whichever apps I wanted, but of course I chose Google’s because they work best together. I started with a Gmail account, and signed up for YouTube, but before long I was using Google Keyboard, Google Books, Google Play Music, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Translate, Google+, Google+ Hangouts, Google Calendar, and Google Wallet.
Unlike Apple, I could save my data in the cloud and use it on almost any device – even Macs and iPhones. To me, Apple products seemed expensive and outdated, while Google products seemed free and twice as good to begin with. My esteem for Apple continued to sink. I now saw a monolithic machine using manipulative (albeit brilliantly so) marketing to sell fragile, less-capable products at ridiculously high prices not just once but repeatedly. The iPhone 4S was the same thing as the iPhone 4 but with a gimmicky voice assistant; the iPhone 5 was the same thing as the iPhone 4S but annoyingly taller; the iPhone 5S was the same thing as the iPhone 5 but whose features were either things I’d already gotten used to on Android, or the design choices of a colorblind toddler.
“Hate” felt like less and less of a strong word. I became convinced that all these kids around me with MacBooks and iPhones were really just throwing away their money so they could feel good about having a shiny, overpriced, premium computer. Before long, what I saw in Google was real innovation like self-driving cars and Google Glass and balloons carrying Internet to developing countries. I saw people complaining about Google with words like “privacy” and “evil” as if Microsoft and Apple and Yahoo! and Comcast and the NSA somehow weren’t doing the same thing. The more attention I paid to the news and the tech industry as a whole, the stronger I felt that the difference between Google and other tech companies is that Google lets you benefit from the data it collects.
Over the course of just a couple years, I had completely changed the way I used technology, the way I viewed my peers as well as two of the most influential corporations in the world, and my entire definition of the word “trust.” Calling one company good without calling the other evil felt almost irreconcilable. Both offer competing products, operating systems, and philosophies.
My Google account has practically become the center of my life. Diving deep into Google’s services and settings have taught me exactly what kind of information I’m giving them, and for the most part, I don’t mind handing it over.
For good or ill, I just can’t imagine what I’d do without it.