Which computer would your character use?

ON TV, EVERYONE OWNS A MAC: one of the most glaring tropes in modern fiction. The more I notice it, the more I notice it.

Despite the prevalence of PCs in real life, most fictional characters — in novels as well as on TV and movies — are banging away on an Apple Mac. It’s completely disproportionate. I suspect it’s to do with the fact that arty types prefer Macs, and arty types are the ones sitting around creating fictional characters. On their Macs, I don’t doubt.

dell computer mac computer


Some characters just wouldn’t be using a Mac. They would not.

I wonder if I’m falling prey to Apple’s marketing hype, absorbing the idea that Mac users really are different from the average PC user:

Apple’s popular commercials have painted the picture in stark terms: There are two types of people, Mac people and PC people. And if the marketing is to be believed, the former is a hip, sport-coat-and-sneakers-­wearing type of guy who uses his computer for video chatting, music mash-ups and other cool, creative pursuits that starchy, business-suited PC users could never really appreciate unless they tried them on the slick Apple interface.

– Popular Mechanics

This advertising campaign hasn’t really done a lot for those PC users who are by now well and truly sick of all those Mac Evangelists out there. (Have you seen them? They come knocking door to door, arriving on bicycles, carrying satchels with wholemeal sandwiches ‘buttered’ with hummus.)

Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui. [THE MAC USER IS] a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn’t really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine. And the more deftly constructed and wittily argued their defence, the more terrified and wounded they secretly are.

– Charlie Brooker

Stereotypes are indeed useful, at least when it comes to painting a character in fiction. There are actual figures on the difference between Mac and PC users. Yes. There are actually people engaged in such meaningful research:

Mac users are more educated, eat more hummus, prefer modern art over impressionist art, and are 21% more likely than PC users to say that two random people are more alike than different.

– Mashable

Some more statistically  likely assumptions about Mac users, from Mashable’s infographic:

Mac users are likely to…

  • be younger
  • value being different and unique
  • be vegetarian
  • consider themselves pretty savvy with technology
  • watch indie films

On the other hand, if your fictional character is a 45 year old accountant who seldom throws parties, likes to fit in, would rather ride a Harley than a Vespa, snacks on sweets rather than salty chips, eats tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, watches Hollywood films and the History Channel on weekends, after consulting the TV Guide, then you’re stretching credibility when you have him typing away on an APPLE MAC.

Statistically speaking, this character needs to be on a PC.

Stereotypes can be challenged in good fiction, but Mac still only have round about 10 percent of the market share. So Macs are appearing way too much in fiction, whichever way I see it.


“…Vivi announced she wanted an outdoor party this year, so we need to have it before it gets cold. I’m doing the invitations on my Macintosh.”

– Caro, from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Would Caro be using a Mac? Possibly. It’s prudent that this elderly woman calls it a ‘Macintosh’, feeling perhaps that ‘Mac’ implies too much familiarity (and familiar with technology she is not).

When Apple Macs – indeed, when any brand names — pervade a book, it gets to feeling like paid product placement, even if it isn’t. I got to feeling like this reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, in which both main characters own a variety of computers, with obvious preference for the Apple products:

In the second week of February Salander’s laptop fell victim to an accident… The rucksack tontained her white Apple iBook 600 with a twenty-five gig hard drive and 420 megs of R.A.M., manufactured in January 2002 and equipped with a thirty-five centimeter screen. At the time she bought it, it was Apple’s state-of-the-art laptop.

– Stieg Larsson

This obviously comes from an author who is into the latest computers himself, and who finds such detail fascinating, but there’s nothing quite like offering up specs of the latest computer to date your work. A kinder interpretation would be to say, ‘There’s nothing like offering up specs of the latest computer to place your work firmly in a particular year’. Which it does.

(I would also bet Stieg Larsson was a coffee lover. I’ve recently given up coffee myself, and noticed it mentioned on every second page. Perhaps the Swedes just love their coffee.)

As for my own computer preferences, any character assumptions will have to go on hold. I have a PC, a Linux running on an old laptop, and I’m currently typing on the Mac which lives beside the fire. I do love Macs, but PCs have their own advantages. They’re cheaper, for starters. And yes yes yes, you do still have to buy all the software, but you can build your own out of parts and use open source software. If it weren’t for the PC fewer people would be able to own a modern computer.

The Myth of Classlessness in Apple’s “Get a Mac” Campaign 

I’d like to see more fictional characters making use of a PC, or simply a ‘computer’, because I’m left scratching my head when I see certain unlikely characters making use of an Apple Mac.

Magical Computers: Computers on TV are not like computers in real life