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iMac, therefore I am

In the face of Mac-owning fervour, I retreat behind my trusty PC.

I'm writing this on a PC. That's right: a PC. Why wouldn't I have a PC? I mean, it stands for "personal computer". In my day, "computer" and "PC" were synonyms as surely as "cat" and "moggy" were, or "Katie Price" and "frightening symbol of a society that has lost its way". But these days, when I get my laptop out in a public place, I see a change in people's faces. They glance at me and at my machine as you might look at someone wearing platform shoes or a shell suit. My PC - with its seemingly timeless little noises and charming messages about "unexpected errors" - is becoming an oddity. Why? Because these days, we have the Mac.

Not very PC

Although Macs have been around a while, anyone of my generation can still remember when the word meant a good, sensible raincoat, and whenever I hear someone boasting that he's just spent £1,000 on a new Mac, my first thought is still: "Wow. At that price, it had better have one hell of a hood!" For some time, I regarded them as a harmless alternative to proper computers, aimed at self-consciously arty people who liked to navigate their way using pictures rather than words. But Macs have taken over. And it hasn't been a bloodless revolution. PC owners like me are now not just the minority, but the enemy.

The fervour of Mac owners has a quasi-religious feel to it: their love for their new, aggressively white gadget is unconditional and the claims they make for its powers are extraordinary. With a Mac, you can make films as good as the ones you see in the cinema! You can sort your music, pictures, documents and clothes in one easy click! Your Mac will forecast the weather, feel a bit sad on the anniversaries of relatives' deaths and decide what you think about the coalition government.

A Mac is not just a tool, like your boring, square, old PC with its goody-goody insistence on getting work done - it's a stylish lifestyle companion, transforming the most mundane tasks into garish fun. I have heard more than one person recently describe their Mac in more emotional terms thanthey have ever used to talk about a human relationship.

And it's the neophytes you want to watch out for. They'll always hear your objections with a polite, amused smile, the way Christians sometimes do when you're admitting you're not one of the saved. "You know what, I used to be just like you," they'll say. "I really thought I'd hate my Mac. But as soon as I got it, I fell in love. I'd never go back."

Indeed, "Once you go Mac, you never go back" has successfully been insinuated as a catchphrase by Apple, exploiting a weakness in its competitors created by the fact that "PC" only rhymes with things like "fleecy". Likewise, the idea of the Mac as a symbol of a "creative" person, against the number-crunching PC user, was effectively inculcated by a silly but memorable advertising campaign. And then there's the look: stark, professional but still with that slightly flirty Apple logo to reassure you that there'll be laughs all the way. So, is the sudden rise of the Mac a simple matter of marketing?

The answer is probably no. I'm prepared to accept that Macs are fun to use and technically advanced beyond my PC. It's just the attitude that goes with their owners.

Phoney argument

It's particularly galling to be lectured on a computer's wondrous potential by someone who, you're well aware, uses barely a fiftieth of it. Yes, your Mac can search through 24 million documents in 0.1 seconds but how many documents do you have on your hard drive? Seven. Five letters about your outstanding council tax payments that you thought would look better typed than handwritten, the start of a novel you abandoned and a Christmas-card list.

It's the same technology-for-its-own-sake mentality that makes people boast that their car can "get up to" 180mph, even though if they ever did that, they'd end up either in prison or dead. The same people insist on having that slightly more expensive iPod with its 45,000-song capacity, even though they buy only one album a year.

But there you are, you see - even if you don't want a Mac, like me, the chances are that you have an iPod (which I do). Or an iPhone (which I have). So, in the end, perhaps there's no escape. Perhaps one day, "Mac" will simply mean "computer" and "PC" will sound as odd and forlorn as "VHS" does now. Until then, Steve Jobs and his friends will never take me alive. And you can print that in your magazine. Just as soon as I've sent this off. I'm having some problems getting online at the moment.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 16 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The war against science