You Are Not Your F*cking Khakis (But You May Be Your Phone)

Earlier today, Joel Johnson wrote an interesting post on Gizmodo simply titled “You Are Not Your Phone.” It reads sort of like a modern day existential rant with the ultimate point being: we don’t cater to fanboys, we tell it like it is, so shut up, it’s just a phone. It’s thought-provoking. It immediately reminded me of some of Tyler Durden’s philosophy from Fight Club.

In the film version, at one point Durden goes on a rant:

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.

The things you own, end up owning you,” Durden says at another point. Johnson’s overall point isn’t dissimilar. “Remember these fuckers [the phones] work for us,” Johnson notes early on. But I’m not sure that Johnson doesn’t discount a certain element of fanboydom too easily.

In this particular case, Johnson is commenting on how Apple fanboys are out in full force to defend the iPhone 4 even though it has a very real antenna issue. And he’s making a commentary about how foolish this is in this particular case because Apple is insulting these very fans by suggesting the hardware issue isn’t really one at all. But he rightly extends his idea to all fanboys as he wraps up:

“Things are things. Companies make things. Some things perfect. Some things not so perfect. In a society based on selling things, it’s expected that those imperfections will be corrected. If you don’t want the media to report those imperfections because it personally offends your own sense of satisfaction in owning a product, that’s on you.”

The last sentence is key. Johnson assumes that people get up in arms about negative posts about products because these stories may offend one’s “own sense of satisfaction in owning a product.” This is something I thought about quite a bit after I wrote my review of the HTC EVO 4G.

My review (in which I state my obvious bias towards the iPhone IN THE TITLE), basically says that the device sucks. Okay, it doesn’t say it  sucks, but it does say that it’s nowhere near the iPhone, or even the Nexus One. Mike, Matt, and plenty of others largely agreed with me.

And yet, Android fanboys were out in the comments as if I had just stabbed Santa Claus with the Easter Bunny. But here’s the best part: this was before the EVO was actually released. So something like 99.9% of them had never actually used the device. But that didn’t matter, I was wrong. I just was. Why? Because.

But really, why were they saying that? Again, almost none of these people actually had the device yet. Some of it was undoubtedly because some of them had already made up their minds that they were going to purchase the device and my negative review was directly opposed to an expensive decision they had already committed to. Others were pissed simply because I stated that the iPhone was my phone of choice and so there’s no way I would ever like another phone . (Which isn’t true, by the way, or else I wouldn’t even both trying these other phones.)

But sometimes it goes even deeper.

I’ve been writing about topics that draw fanboy praise and ire for a while now. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc. When a company gets big enough, they get fanboys. But in many cases, in some of the more heated discussions in blog comments there’s something pretty large that often overlooked. Very real bias.

Not bias as in, I think the iPhone is the best device so I’m not going to like an Android device as much. But bias as in, I have some skin in this game. Almost none will admit it, but those commenters silly enough to leave links back to Facebook profiles, Twitter profiles, or even personal websites often leave clues to the root of their bile.

Are commenters pissed off about your anti-Microsoft stance? Check to see how many of them devote their careers to developing on and/or around Microsoft products. Maybe they hate your anti-Apple rant? Check how many make a living off of the App Store. Or are they flaming your anti-Google post? Maybe they work for a company firmly entrenched in Android development.

Of course, this isn’t the source of all of this hatred. Or probably even most of it. But in my experience, it’s also not an insignificant factor in comment hatred. And it makes sense. If someone threatens your livelihood — even in the smallest way — you defend yourself.

Then, of course, there are the people who actually work for the companies being attacked (but conveniently leave that out — or do an anonymous comment). Or there’s the investors in those companies (both public stockholders and private stakeholders). It’s hard to prove. But you’d be foolish to think it doesn’t happen.

So in some ways, some people actually are their phones, to extend Johnson’s phrase. It’s not always that they’re fanboys for no good reason. Sometimes they’re fanboys because they have to be.

Imagine if you’ve committed you whole life to one particular Microsoft proprietary technology, and now a bunch of bloggers are saying Microsoft as we know it is going to be in trouble in 10 years. Yeah, you’d be pissed. And you’d scream from the top of your lungs that they’re wrong. Because even if they’re not, you have to believe it. Or you’re screwed.

That’s the ultimate fanboy. And there are plenty of them out there.