ain't got time for that

This post is preparatory to another one.

I’m a long-time Mac user — in the spring of 1985 I bought the original Macintosh and have owned no other brand of computer since then — and I used to be evangelistic about it. When friends and colleagues complained about their PCs, or about Windows, I would be quick to tell them how much happier and more efficient they would be if they just switched to the Mac. I would list all the cool features of the Mac and extol its reliability. I would offer to help them switch.

I still hear those complaints, but now I simply try to look sympathetic. I don't evangelize any more. I don't do it because after some years of expressing my Mac enthusiasm I noticed that almost everyone I talked to got the same look on his or her face — the nearly blank I-don’t-really-want-to-hear-this look. At first I wondered about that expression: I mean, didn’t you just tell me how frustrated you are? Wouldn't you prefer to eliminate that frustration?

What I was failing to realize, in my Mac evangelist days, was the power of the better-the-devil-you-know principle. Its an enormous amount of trouble to move all your data to a new computer and then to learn wholly new ways of doing things. It requires a major investment of time and energy, and people I know tend to be pretty busy and not to have much time and energy to spare. And it does no good to explain that switching is not as much trouble as you might think — that might be true, but then it might not, and for many people the risk of massive complications is more than they want to take on. None of people I talked seemed to doubt my claim that Macs are better than PCs, but weighing the added value against all the trouble . . . well, it was just more than they wanted to think about. Thus the blank but slightly discomfited looks.

I called myself an “evangelist,” and Mac users can be pretty religious about their computers, but this is an issue in real religious dialogue as well. We Christians can find our enthusiasm about Jesus met with the same blank looks. I’m not talking about people who know that they don't want to be Christians, for whatever reason. Rather, I’m thinking about people who guess that Christianity could possibly be true but the likelihood isn't high enough to justify the time and energy it would take to find out.

We all have to make choices like this all the time. Look, there are a pair of Mormons at my door — should I talk to them and find out what their religion is all about? Hey, the Jehovah’s Witnesses left some pamphlets — should I read them and find out whether there’s anything to their beliefs? Or how about this: should I investigate becoming a vegan? Or joining the Libertarian Party? Or making my next car a hybrid?

People get evangelistic about all of these things, and there’s something mysterious about why we respond as we do — why we pass over many of these options without a second thought, give brief consideration to others, and thoroughly explore just a few. There’s just not time in one life to investigate everything, and that means that we have to make some choices with very limited information. Which means that people are not being irrational just because they dismiss your favorite cause without thorough research. They’re doing what we all do.