The Chromebook as Signifier

3 style reasons why those who can afford a MacBook Air instead go Chromebook.

September 7, 2015

Why would someone who could afford a $1,500 MacBook Air choose instead to purchase a $250 Chromebook?

My hypothesis is that there are two distinct Chromebook buyers.

Chromebook Buyer 1: A person, or organization, who buys Chromebooks mostly for reasons of costs.

Chromebook Buyer 2: A person who buys a Chromebook mostly for reasons of style.

The cost rationale for a Chromebook purchase is becoming increasingly compelling.

For under $300 bucks you can get a machine that is built for the collaborative work that most of us do today. Working together on Google Docs and Gmail, the sort of work that increasingly defines both professional and educational tasks, is as good on a Chromebook as the most expensive laptop you can buy.

The organizational purchase argument for Chromebooks is even stronger.

Anyone who has ever experienced the benefits of any one-to-one technology program understands the improvements in productivity that arrive when everyone is on the same platform. If anything, the benefits to learning and teaching of one-to-one technology programs are undersold. Having everyone reliably and consistently working on the same hardware and software tools enables a shift in energy from maintenance to innovation.

The total-cost-of-ownership benefits of a Chromebook vs. a PC are also well-known, and not really (to my knowledge) disputed.

The decision to buy a Chromebook for reasons of style, rather than costs, is perhaps the more interesting of the choices.

I’ve started to witness many people working in technology-centric jobs choosing to go the Chromebook route. We are seeing more Chromebooks at edtech conferences. Some members of the tech forward thought leadership class are starting to publicly brandish their Chromebooks. (Not me, this post was written on my MacBook Air, and my Chromebook is purely for backup).

While money is tight everywhere, and everyone appreciates saving a dollar whenever possible, my guess is that when push-came-to-shove that many of the professionals now carrying Chromebooks could afford (or convince their employer to afford) a MacBook Air.

What lies behind the style choice to go Chromebook? 3 thoughts:

1. My Chromebook Signifies That I’m an Independent Thinker:

Us professional Chromebook owners might be able to afford a Mac, but we don’t need a Mac. The cult around Apple is disturbing to many of us. Nothing makes us cringe more than witnessing the reverential response from attendees of an Apple event to the claim by an Apple exec that a new shiny piece of hardware is “revolutionary”.

As Apple hardware morphs from a work tool to a fashion accessory its appeal diminishes to many of us. We see our technology as tools. We don’t want to be defined by brands, most especially tech brands. We want to make our own technology choices outside of the all encompassing marketing juggernaut that has become Apple.

2. My Chromebook Demonstrates That I Am Agile, Innovative, and Cloud-Based:

We don’t own our stuff, rather our stuff ends up owning us. The cloud is not just a technology, it is a way of thinking. We value experiences, not things. We would rather consume our needs as services, rather than carry around the overhead of ownership.  If we could Uber rather than own a car, we would. If renting a place to live was a practical alternative to homeownership, we would be renters. We’ve gotten rid of our CD’s, and maybe even our MP3’s, and are happily subscribing to Spotify. Our books are digital rather than paper.

My Chromebook is just one more step down the long path from owning to using. Of course my documents are in the cloud, and so should my applications. Living in the cloud means that I can work flexibly and move quickly. No longer beholden to working on any one screen, or with any single technology, I can move my work life between any screen that happens to be at hand. The Chromebook is just a cheap screen attached to a good keyboard. I don’t expect to keep it very long, worry about if it gets stolen, or fix it when it breaks. The Chromebook is the interchangeable technological dream of a post-stuff society.

3. My Chromebook Is Evidence That I Am a Progressive, Strategic and Big Picture Thinker:

True, there are some limitations in going Chromebook. Video editing is tough. Whenever I need to work with folks still trapped in the prison that is MS Office complications may ensue. Printing, don’t even ask.

But these are costs for living in the future that I’m willing to endure. Nothing worthwhile is easy, right? My Chromebook matches my beliefs in how the world should work. I buy locally grown and organic food not because it is cheaper or more convenient, but because I don’t to support an industrial food system that is cruel to animals, unhealthy for eaters, and unsustainable in the long run for both our economy and our environment. In the same way, going Chromebook is a statement that I’m willing to endure some pain in order to free myself from the tyranny of the tech brands, and the dangers of group techno think.

In the future we will all work in the cloud. Us Chromebook people have already arrived.

What does your Chromebook signify about you?



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