Let’s talk hyperbole.

I get a lot of comments on my blog. Some are fawning, others are pugnacious. Smart cars bring out both sides of Americans. I approve both equally given that they meet the following simple requirements:

  1. The author expresses her ideas understandably and with reasonable grammar (no lollerskating in the halls!)
  2. The comments do not verge on trolling or incite fame wars

Recently I have had two cases of comments that did not meet those requirements. The first was from a very enthusiastic smart car salesperson, rushing to defend the smart from one of the more pugnacious comments on this blog. He did not use very good grammar, and his response would have only enraged the original poster, who was entitled to their own opinion and was not trying to start a fight. So I didn’t approve it. Like my mother used to say, don’t speak if you can’t improve the conversation. (This is an excellent rule to follow both online and off, by the by.)

The other comment I did not approve had a very interesting link to a smart car crash test video. The link was so interesting that it warrants a blog post of its own (which I will post later). In fact, I would have approved the comment in a flash, as the information was quite relevant to the post, but the commentator made mistake #2, that is to say, and do pardon my crude language, he acted like a total prick by launching his missive with a series of personal attacks and ending with calling me a “blowhard hyperbolist.” Now, I actually think being called a blowhard isn’t so bad. Most people I’ve heard called blowhards are actually also considered passionate and even charismatic. However, I take issue with “hyperbolist.”

The American Heritage┬« New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition defines “hyperbole” as:

An exaggerated, extravagant expression. It is hyperbole to say, “I’d give my whole fortune for a bowl of bean soup.”

Now, if I dislike poor grammar, I absolutely detest people using words bigger than their heads without grasping their full meaning, like “irony” and “feminist.” I would say that I am exuberant, that I am enthusiastic about my smart car, but I do not think “hyperbolic” is the appropriate word for such qualities.

Recently I have been considering purchasing a Mac. I actually don’t like Macs, probably for the same reason a lot of people don’t like smart cars: I get the impression that the entire product line is snobbish and geared to make non-users feel like troglodytes, and I’ve had more than one unpleasant encounter with an overzealous user who went out of their way to help drive that point home. So naturally this is not something I am particularly eager to look into. But all my best clients use Macs, and it would improve our workflow if I could use the same programs they do.

Keep in mind that I still love my PC. I will always be a PC girl. I was raised in DOS. My mother taught me the command line before I learned to tie my shoes! I have always owned a PC and loved them just as much as I love my smart car–I get really attached to machines I depend on for a living, and it shows when I name each and every one of them. Bill and Melinda Gates donated PCs and internet services to all the libraries in my rural area, and it was because of their generosity that I was able to start making web sites and web comics and eventually crawl out of rural poverty into a new and better life. Microsoft is not evil, not to me. Microsoft is a godsend. In contrast, I have long held the views that Macs are expensive, over-hyped, and that Mac users often verge on elitism in their enthusiasm. (I am aware that enthusiasm can both be misinterpreted as and lead to elitism.)

I know nothing about Macs, so I picked up a magazine called Switch to Mac that details all the different models, the differences between the systems, etc. I had spent quite some time reasoning with myself that PC people need not fear Mac people, telling myself, “They aren’t elitists who are going to attack my hardworking machine or make me feel like less of a person for using a PC for so long. Come now, we’re adults! The OS wars are all in my head. There’s no real stigma to being a PC user. I’m just being defensive. After all, I have many friends and clients who use Macs, and have they ever trod upon my feelings or my setup? No, they’ve been most welcoming and congenial! I am the one who is being immature.”

I got home and read the introductory page, a letter from the editor with a great big photo of him in typical “design geek” glasses. Then all my worst fears were realized. When he wrote, among other not-so-very-nice things, “…follow along with us and you’ll soon be a happy Mac user; and your nasty old PC will soon be just a memory,” my jaw hit the floor. It was everything I had not wanted it to be. I was put on the defensive. Reading the magazine would be like having my entire belief system raked over the coals, as an integral part of my life, my beloved computers and the corporation that helped me learn to use them to access the rest of the world, was shredded into bitty bitty pieces and thrown into the chipper for good measure.

Okay, I am exaggerating. That first page is probably the most offensive part of the magazine–or at least I hope so. But this is how a statement like that can completely derail your real message. That’s not how people should encourage each other to embrace new technologies. It’s not encouraging at all to people who still like the old technology.

I hope readers understand that I try very hard to not push my ideals onto others. I won’t tell you that the smart car is the best car on earth, but it is the best car for me. Do I think everyone should drive a smart car? No. My coworker has big dogs and needs a hatchback. My friend has a child and a husband and needs a back seat. My mother drives all over mountains and needs four wheel drive. I would never preach to them that my car is best. There’s no such thing. Sure, I’d love more people in my city to drive smart cars. We might get preferred parking spots like they do in England (it’d be nice on Glenwood Avenue, am I right or am I right?). But I don’t look down on people for driving the cars they do (or at least I try, as in the case of people who drive SUVs in the flatlands where it never snows and then complain about gas prices–but their whinings drive the auto industry to create more fuel-efficient technologies for gas guzzlers, so they are in a way doing the world a favor, and I can respect that).

I can’t hate you anymore, iPhone users, Mac-vangelists, tea-partiers, smart-haters. When you hate, you’re doing your causes a disservice. You’re making the things you like more hate-able. That’s no way to make a point.

Now, I have to go return this magazine to Barnes and Noble and pick up the much friendlier Macmost.com Guide to Switching to the Mac. It didn’t have colored pictures, but the author didn’t spend his first impression dissin’ on my ride icon wink Lets talk hyperbole.


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