The Agony Of The Fanboy

Every few months I’m reminded of the intensity of feeling some technologies – be they physical objects (they usually are) or web services – engender in a certain subset of the human population. It’s a well-documented effect: The object of desire is courted for months before launch, then at launch it is defended to the death, and then, when it is obvious that said object is a success or failure, they react with righteous jubilation or, barring that, a muted boosterism seen in people who play the same numbers in the lotto day after day.

The great Broder v. Tesla controversy is the latest in this ongoing war of logic vs. reality and is still being fought by a group of die-hard Tesla owners who are driving the route a New York Times reporter drove a few weeks ago to prove, unequivocally, that their cars will survive the trek.

Obvious bias aside, it’s a noble goal to defend Tesla. I would say that this fanboyism is important simply because it defends the reality of the electric car. Is Tesla going to be the car-maker of the 21st century? I’m not certain. Even though it’s running circles around the incumbents, there are still far too many unknowns to let the matter of the everyman’s electric vehicle rest in their hands. But I do think they are proving to the world that they can make an electric car that looks great, runs well, and, barring a few glitches, won’t strand you in Scranton? Absolutely.

But a lot of what you people defend isn’t the future of fossil-free transportation. Most of it is Wii U vs. PS3, console vs. PC, and Android vs. iOS. And it’s pretty ridiculous to watch battles rage with such intensity when people are still dying of malaria.

I’d like to address the best way to love something unequivocally without looking like a freak. To be clear, I write this same post almost every year and, not unlike tears in the rain, the wisdom within is lost in the great morass of the blogosphere. But whatever, it’s a holiday weekend and here you go: The Rules Of Online Discourse.

1. Maybe you’re wrong. Understand this when you attack someone for what they’ve written: maybe they’re right. I’ll use a very basic example that I’m sure you will find horribly biased but here we go: I see a lot of things. I know what works and what doesn’t. As Raymond Carver once wrote: My friend John Biggs was talking. John Biggs is a blogger, and some­times that gives him the right.

So I saw this thing called the Notion Ink Adam. It was an Android tablet that came out just before the iPad and was supposed to be the best thing since dry cleaning. There was a vocal group of supporters who absolutely loved the thing and I thought they were deluding themselves. I wrote this:

Irrational Exuberance. The thing that worries me most is the exuberance with which a group of anonymous commenters attacked my post. I say this constantly but “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The site’s commenters have created a cult of personality and feel empowered by Notion Ink to actually make a difference in the device. God bless them, I say. It’s important for users to feel that their voices are heard. But the herd doesn’t make good products and the herd is fickle. It is my opinion that this device will not live up to the hype.

The result? The device launched, a few other devices were promised, the device failed, and now the website is on hiatus. People defended it for months and months. The message boards were a blur of vociferous justification. New blog posts were hailed as messages from the ether. Then, slowly but surely, the creator stopped talking to the faithful. Messages like “I still love Notion Ink but where are the updates?” and “My Notion Ink is better than anything else but it’s broken now” appeared, where before “PEOPLE WHO BUY ANYTHING BUT A NOTION INK ADAM SUCK” reigned. The justification for their purchases grew increasingly vague, and no one will bet on a horse that died in the stable the night before the race except the insane and/or overly optimistic. I was right; the fanboys were wrong. I’m not happy that happened, but it’s the truth.

2. Say nothing. People online don’t care what you think about Android. They just don’t. Your best bet is to stay inside the forums and websites dedicated to your obsession and to talk about those obsessions there and not in public. Getting into a Twitter fight with John Gruber is pointless because he makes more than you simply by linking and writing one pithy line. He’s got Apple on lock, he’s not paid off, but it’s his business to write intelligently about his favorite thing. Don’t like his opinions? Either open yourself to conflicting ideas or don’t read him. As Wilhelm Stekel wrote, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”

3. No one is biased or everyone is biased. Either way, shut up about it. Human beings contain multitudes. No one cares about the things you care about as much as you do and vice versa. Claiming bias is stupid. It suggests that you are biased in the other direction or suggests you’re free of bias, which is also wrong. You’ll argue with me on this point but you’ll be wrong.

4. When you fail, fail gracefully. When WebOS died, fanboys were forced to concede to the fact that their favorite thing in the world was a dud. A group of fans rallied around the open-source version of WebOS and are still futzing around with it, but like a legion of Betamax fanatics, they’re worshipping at the feet of a dead god. Move on. Be nimble and mentally malleable. Learn something new. Still defending PHP to your dying breath? Go learn Python. Think iOS is a blast? Swap your iPad mini for a Nexus 7. I do this quite often and it’s very refreshing. I learned that I loved Windows 8, for example, and that the Surface Pro is great. I learned these things because I’m in a very special position, but you (meaning MG), too, can at least go into the Microsoft store with an open mind and come out potentially changed.

5. Let’s not fight. There’s beer to drink. There are people to woo and befriend. There are songs to be sung and board games to play. There are things to be smoked, pets to be stroked, and a sun to cavort under or snow to fort into. To those who insist on massing on points of order on the Internet with a horde-like intensity, I say to you: I know high school is hard, but it’s only four years and your time is better spent on lomography or woodworking than defending a technology that will be irrelevant in two years. “We are all prisoners here, of our own device,” said a very wise man once. Let’s all try to get along if only to keep the number of shivvings down.

[Illustration: Bryce Durbin]