Fanboy free for all 

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I think people are starting to like their technological gadgets a little too much, which is to say that we've become personally, as well as financially, invested in the products we buy. There's a certain defensiveness and divisiveness in how we consume things that borders on the irrational. We've lost our objectivity, and, with it, our perspective.

I could give countless examples, but the one the interwebs are talking about is MG Siegler's review of the Microsoft Surface Tablet in TechCrunch. Now Siegler is probably Apple's biggest fanboy ever, which is saying something in a fawning media environment where everything Apple does is front-page news and the company hasn't had to invest much in the way of marketing because people like Siegler are doing it for them better than they ever could. He said he would try to be objective, and would accept the consequences if he was found to be biased: " the end of the day the fact remains that if I rip apart a product that's actually good, that looks bad on me. My aim is simply to point out what I believe to be the best products. In recent years, in my view, those have been Apple products. But that hasn't always been the case. And that won't always be the case."

Sure enough Siegler's review was met with angry cries of "fanboy!" by people that wanted to give the Microsoft Surface a chance or don't like Apple for some reason. And, predictably, Apple fans jumped to his defence, throwing around stats and specs like they actually mean something to the average consumer.

This is just one well-publicized example of the fanboy wars being waged on the Internet. There's the console wars, where people battle over what platform is better (Xbox 360 vs. PS3, etc.); the "PC vs. console" wars where PC gamers claim supremacy over philistines using joysticks and last generation hardware; the gadget wars; the phone wars; the operating system wars, which includes the "operating environment wars" where you buy everything (computer, phone, tablet) from the same company; and the video game wars where people draw lines in the sand between titles — e.g. Battlefield vs. Call of Duty, Diabolo vs. Torchlight, etc.

It's fascinating to watch battles unfold online over every single little thing, and the types of language people use to fight these battles. It's not rational, or in the larger scheme of things where a billion people don't have food or water security and half the world's population lives in poverty, sane.

It's a phenomena I've tried to avoid, although I can still get caught up in the odd flame war. Still, but losing my objectivity sometimes I've been able to better understand fanboyism — why it exists, and why people can get so emotional, and personal, when it comes to products they use. I have three theories:

1. Once we invest, we're invested for the long-term — several years usually, and at least three years when we buy a phone. The last thing we would want to admit is that we've bought anything but the best phone out there, or to think we may have made the wrong choice. We get defensive about it, and as a result we're more willing to overlook faults or overemphasize the importance of the good things.

We're also scared of getting it wrong, and feel we need to support the products we make or find ourselves out in the cold with an obsolete product that doesn't work with anyone else's. We won't take a risk on a new or different device, or back a company whose fortunes are in decline even if their newest products are pretty good — Research In Motion's Blackberry phones are a good example.

2. Companies make us do it. These days we're forced to make prohibitive choices all the time. For example, if you buy a PS3 you know you're not going to be able to play Halo games — so the only logical thing to do is take to online forums and rave about how Halo is overrated, Resistance is better, PS3 is a better machine because of Blu-ray and free online multiplayer, and so on. The fact is that every device has proprietary advantages and disadvantages, and any time we make a choice we're ultimately limiting ourselves. For example, I really prefer having a PC for a lot of reasons that make sense to me, but I really, really wish I could use Apple's GarageBand and Pixelmator. My next computer will be a dual boot computer for those reasons alone.

It's a fact that these different ecosystems don't play nice all the time, and we're forced to stick to one ecosystem or another (e.g. all Apple, all Microsoft, all Android). One reviewer showed off his selection of devices and people were stunned that he used an Apple MacBook, Nexus 7 tablet and Microsoft phone.

3. Peer pressure. I'm not saying that people have to buy a certain phone or be ostracized, but technology is used very publicly, it's a topic of discussion and something that gets noticed. Sometimes it's just easier to go with the product that everyone else has than it is to show up with something different or less expensive.

The good news these days is that even the worst technology out there is still a hundred times better than anything that was available 10 years ago. And, if nothing else, the fanboy wars are at least entertaining — worth a peek into the comments section of any technology story.


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