Why Mac User Groups are Fading: An Analysis

Back in 1984, the computer world was taken by surprise: Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. introduced Macintosh 128k, which was arguably one of the most advanced computers of its time. When it was taken out of the bag and had its capabilities flaunted by the young Steve Jobs, the Flint Center auditorium at the De Anza college erupted with applause.

It was remembered as the day Macintosh was introduced into the world. By then, groups of dedicated Mac users, called Mac User Groups, started forming, and by the mid-1980s, the groups and their members increased… exponentially. Unknown to many, these groups contributed to Apple’s success, and even helped it indirectly during its darkest days.

Nowadays however, most of these groups have faded into obscurity.

What are Mac User Groups?

Initially, Mac user groups, or MUGs, were scores of faithful Apple computer users back in the late 1970s. After Macintosh (later called Macintosh 128k after Macintosh 512k was introduced) was released into mainstream consciousness in 1984, they rekindled themselves as MUGs.

These groups of faithful Mac users were primarily formed to discuss Macintosh computers, software, and anything related to the computer. They are independent groups, unaffiliated with Apple, and were based in their respective localities. They function freely, create websites of their own, and elect their own leaders.

What were their contributions?

Since Macintosh predated the mainstream Internet era, not everybody can easily prop up their computers and browse through search engine results pages (they didn’t exist at that time) and seek troubleshooting help. This is where MUGs came in: they provided tech support and classes to both of their members and those outside their circles.

The era was also the golden age of the floppy disks – members of these communities shared floppy disks and created innovative ways to maximize the Macintosh, which was arguably ahead of its time. During Apple’s dark ages in the 90s, they remained steadfast in their commitment and love for Apple. According to Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s former evangelist, as quoted by the New York Times:

“They filled the void of support and enthusiasm that the market wasn’t providing and created a cult feeling that kept us going.”

Currently, Apple does still has a user group page finder on its website, helping people connect with fellow Mac lovers worldwide.

Sadly, they are fading, and here’s why…

Nowadays, most MUGs are composed of seniors: old Macintosh enthusiasts and programmers who have been using the computer for several decades. Over the years, these communities started declining: some had peaked to over thousands, only to be decline or be disbanded in recent years.

…Apple is just becoming too mainstream and information is too accessible

Apple is currently mainstream, and is definitely one of the largest technological empires the world. The company’s products embody simplicity and intuitiveness, and are powered by advanced hardware and promoted by a powerhouse marketing team.

It has grown into a self-sustaining empire, and with the rise of the Internet and social media, tech support and troubleshooting can be done in just a click, rather than having to type in long-winding codes on a console. Everybody knows what Apple Inc. is,  and almost every person in the world is using one of the products they have manufactured.

Mac user groups have been patronizing Apple computers since the Macintosh.

Though it’s painful to say this, MUGs have had most of their primary roles unknowingly taken away by the company they loved and supported. The circumstances of the times, along with new inventions, played a critical role as well. Everybody knows how to use an iMac and navigate around a Macbook’s intuitive user interface. There is little need for tech support classes in the community – anybody can troubleshoot a Mac by themselves.

Where are they now?

Currently, there are still hundreds – probably thousands – of Mac user groups worldwide. A simple Google search can prove it. Former members still meet today, discussing the old times, Steve Jobs’ introduction of the Macintosh, and era of the floppy disk. Some still hold occasional classes, hold meetings, and watch Apple events together.

Some even fix up old computers running now-unsupported operating systems for younger people who are collecting old iMacs and Macintosh computers. It’s a joy to imagine an old Macintosh user group member fixing up an old Apple computer for a 25-year old collector.

While MUGs certainly aren’t in their heyday anymore, we should always remember their contributions over the years that helped turn Apple Inc. into the billion-dollar company it is now.

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