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Do Mac and PC Users Really 'Think Different'?

Posted by Josh Rothman  April 25, 2011 09:24 AM

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Over the last few years, Apple's I'm a Mac ads have added two new stereotypes to our culture's already-rich store of them: Mac People, we now know, are annoying hipsters, while PC People are unfortunate if well-meaning schlubs. Incredibly, new statistics from the website Hunch.com suggest that these stereotypes might actually be true. While PC users read USA Today over a tuna melt and Pepsi, their Mac-using peers are reading The New York Times over a hummus sandwich and a San Pellegrino.

Hunch is an online recommendation site: users answer "Teach Hunch About You" questions, and Hunch's algorithms recommend new movies, albums, products, services, websites, and so on. 388,315 Hunch users have told Hunch.com whether they use a Mac or a PC; Hunch cross-referenced that information with their huge database of individual preferences to produce this chart comparing Mac People and PC People.

The most central difference seems to be that Mac users are more urban than PC users: half of Mac people live in the city, while PC people are "18% more likely to live in the suburbs and 21% more likely to live in a rural area." Mac people are also, on the whole, younger, more liberal, and more educated. They "prefer modern art," and watch Bravo, Showtime, and HBO, while PC users like USA Network and the History and SyFy Channels. "69% of PC people would rather ride a Harley than a Vespa; 52% of Mac users would go for the Vespa.... Mac people are 80% more likely to be vegetarian." The differences between Mac and PC people are, in other words, just as annoying as you expected them to be.

In fact, neither side emerges from the survey unscathed. It's nice for Mac people that they throw more parties than PC people -- but, it's super lame that their cocktail conversation comes from totally predictable websites (Apartment Therapy, Huffington Post, Boing Boing). It's kind of surprising (and gross, to me at least) that PC people really like strawberry daquiris -- but how typical is it that Mac people like retro-trendy cocktails like Gimlets and Moscow Mules? The survey offers you a glimpse into the Escher-like world of consumer preferences, in which groups that are already differentiated by their consumption style ("I'm a Mac" vs. "I'm a PC") further differentiate themselves by means of other consumer preferences, which all fit into a tightly connected network of consumption-based self-definition.

The resulting data paints a portrait of America right out of a Don DeLillo novel. Presumably, though, Mac and PC people have many ways of defining their identities that aren't captured by questions about snack foods and TV habits. They might consume different, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they think different.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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