There’s a guy at work who loves razzing me for being a Mac user. “Simple machines for simple minds,” he quips. He has yet to explain what’s wrong with making a computer easy to use. Last week, in response to an article on ZDNet explaining how even a Windows guy could love a Mac, he wrote, “I got hung out when OS/2 disappeared. At least if windows goes down I can always learn Linux and still use my HW. If mac goes down it will just suck all those big ole mac heads down with it!”

Yeah. My response:

There are PowerPC Linux distros from Debian, SuSE Yellow Dog. I’ve been running Linux on my Macs for a few years now. It’s a great way to use old Macs that can’t run OS X. Granted, Linux support for brand-new Mac hardware takes a bit longer to develop, but it gets there.

A balanced article by Edd Dumbill: “iBooks Love Linux“.

And again, you can hardly compare yourself to an average user. The average Mac head is no more or less computer-savvy than the average Windows user. In the unlikely event that Windows goes down, what will Windows users do? They’ll be in the same boat as Mac users would be. Digging for old copies of BeOS.

Except, of course, that they would never have heard of BeOS.

Today he points to what turns out to be an interesting article about one reason for the digital divide that’s raising such a furor in the US: “The reason the entire country isn’t on the Internet is that tens of millions of Americans are too old, too young, illiterate, or just plain stupid.

Good point. And it relates to something I was planning to write about today anyway.

The other day I was talking with a friend who for the first time is really coming to grips with widespread incompetence. For the most part, his whole life he has been surrounded with intelligent, over-competent people. His idea of “average” is skewed. But now he’s coming into regular contact with genuinely average people and is experiencing something like culture shock. I know what he means. If ten years in retail taught me anything, it’s that people are stupid (and that I am no exception to this rule).

Then a bit later I was talking with a teacher in an inner-city school. One of the things that he both loves and hates about his job is the diversity among the students that he works with. Not racial or cultural diversity, though. He’s talking about teaching kids who will grow up to be rocket scientists, and kids who will end up in prison. Forget about incompetence on the job: that’s average. Deal with people who can’t keep a job or will never have the chance. There’s a challenge.

So yeah. That’s part of the reason for the digital divide. I don’t think that it’s insensitive to acknowledge it. We can fight illiteracy, we can try to teach people to use technology. But we’re still going to have to deal with people who either don’t want to or cannot use computers. Something to keep in mind as more and more services are moving exclusively online.