Why do we get so predisposed to liking a particular product, software, operating system or even an ideology so much that we end up becoming unpaid advocates easily willing to slit each other’s throats?
As you would expect, I keep having a lot of heated debates in my friend circle on a daily basis. We're always at each other's throats about things ranging from evergreen debates such as ATI vs. NVIDIA, AMD vs. Intel, Windows vs. Linux, Wordpress vs Blogger, Firefox vs Chrome or even arguments on current issues like whether the Tumblr hipsters deserve to die at the hands of 4chan's anonymous legions. Yes, that last bit was about the ongoing war between the anarchist anonymous message board users from 4chan and their denial-of-service attack on Tumblr, the blogging platform populated by pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-net savvy idiots.
The start of one such mini world war was when someone dropped a very casual statement in one of our skype meets; something to the effect of - "Winamp is so much better than Windows Media Player". That was all we needed to set aside everything and launch off into a skirmish over the most OMG-awesome media player in the universe. Soon Foobar, Mediamonkey and Media Play Classic were also thrown into the fray. Some die hard Winamp fanboys who have been using Winamp since the time their playlist consisted of Ace of Base tracks, defended their beloved player, mainly citing usability. "Can you even que songs in Windows Media Player? And unlike WMP, you don't need to add everything to your library to be able to play stuff".
Now hold on. Before you take a deep breath to launch off into a counter argument in response to the slightly misinformed statement above, rest assured, WMP fanboys landed on this particular friend of mine like a ton of bricks. So what exactly is it with Fanboyism? Why do we get so predisposed to liking a particular product, software, operating system or even an ideology - razor sharp edges on a Mac Book anyone? In this feature, we'll look at some of the most fanatic fanboy groups that have existed throughout geek history and some newer emerging ones. But what's more important is a look at what forms biases; what are the factors that make us behave like mule-headed zealots. Come on, it's got to do with more than just people like Steve Jobs strutting around on stage in a black turtle neck right?
Psychology of Fanboyism
Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary has some interesting definitions for the phenomenon. The former says "Fanboy is a term used to describe a male who is highly devoted and biased in opinion towards a single subject or hobby within a given field. Fanboy-ism is often prevalent in a field of products, brands or universe of characters where very few competitors (or enemies in fiction, such as comics) exist." If you're a fangirl and are offended about the definition not covering the fairer sex, you should be glad. Only men are pigheaded (read: egoistic) enough to defend their trivial choices with such vigor.
By swaggering about as fanboys whether on the web or in real life, people inadvertently become not connoisseurs (or 1337) but rather unpaid advocates (or evangelists sic) of the company or product they're defending. So let’s get down to the fundamental question - what causes the bias?
People familiar with something are obviously predisposed to liking it and extolling its virtues. This is one of the prime reasons why Windows users have trouble transitioning to Linux (when they are forced to) and hence launch off into lengthy litanies on the subject of operating systems.
Elitism and Esoterism
Being a part of a small club exclusive club is something people have been seeking since time immemorial. By owning or using something you believe is not consumed by the masses you feel special somehow. The key word however is believe. There are still some people out there who use Irfan View and think they're doing something extremely out of the ordinary and would stake their life on the application being the best image viewer in the world.
Fear of not knowing better
If you didn't know for example that an Archos or Cowon PMP can outdo an iPod, you'd still say your iPod rocks because you don't want to admit that you didn't know of alternatives. The same way a Winamp fanboy will not admit to liking Foobar because he probably doesn't know the various features of Foobar, and it's easier to dismiss it.
This basically means that once you own something (of follow some practice) it becomes a little bit more valuable. What you must understand is that it is more valuable to only you. Everyone else in the world may not necessarily share your love for Jigglypuff from Pokémon.
Justification of choice
It might be the hardcore research you've conducted. Or just the amount of hard cash you've shelled out, every person wants to justify their choice.
An investment can be in terms of both time and money. Once you've spent some time with a particular thing you have an investment which makes you want to stick to it longer. Besides, no one wants to admit their car's a lemon right.
Famous Fan Boy Wars
PC vs. Mac
A battle nearly as age old as desktop computing. Through the ages we've witnessed smear campaigns from both sides. Whether it’s FUO (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) tactics or through those awesomely funny ad campaigns, we've enjoyed every moment. But off late haven't you noticed the Mac guy has become this snarky hipster whom you just want to slap. "God I hate that guy" is the only thing that comes to mind.
Firefox vs. well ... the world!
Most Firefox users would cringe at the thought of insane load times, but would quickly point out security, extension support, and grease monkey scripts in defense of their favorite browser.
Unreal Tournament vs. Quake III
Faster gameplay was what fan boys screamed in favor of Q3, and cool weapons for UT. Although this debate has died out in the rest of the world, we being a little old school (read: fuddyduddies) still have occasional dissing matches. One of my college friend was recently heard saying "UT is much more fun to play dude, Q3 is ..." and then he proceeded to make a gesture that we cannot describe in a blog post.
Android vs. iOS
One of the newly emerging factions across the world. The Android army let out squeals of joy when the iPhone 4 antenna issue happened. Apple fan boys on the other hand at least for now heavily outnumber them. iPhone users feel it's Ok to own any phone as long as it's an iPhone.
Facebook vs. Twitter
Like the above example, this one is also a relatively new war. And the flame war is catching on in India too. After setting their sights on the Orkutiyas (as they like to call the remaining stragglers of the Orkut era) the so called Twitterati now spend a considerable amount of time dissing people who predominantly use Facebook. Funny thing is that all of them still maintain a Facebook profile.
PS3 vs. XBox 360
The comment section for any online review for a Halo or Call of Duty invariably turns into the favorite flame war of the day. PS3s are usually called cheap Blu-ray players while Microsoft's operating system disasters are quoted to beleaguer the Xbox gang.
Blogger vs Wordpress
Last night only, was having argument with my college friend over this issue. SEO, professionalism, investment, hosting and what now were compared and guess who was the winner : No one :)
Penguins vs. well again, the world
No one really gives a $I-I!% about you. No no we're kidding of course. There's an entire article dedicated to this subject here.
Lets now come back to the case that sparked off this journey into the investigation of Fanboyism. We began with talking about Winamp and Windows Media Player. Several arguments were thrown about, many based in fact, many based in perception, and many were just misinformation. The Winamp fanboy in the team didn't really know that the most recent version of WMP allowed nearly all of the features that he was throwing at his opponent as defense. When the arguments were stricken off one by one the last thing he had to say (like any other fanboy) was "WMP just sucks man".
Now at Tech Guru we don't take lightly to biases, even when so minuscule as a media player. So in our typical Tech Guru determination to unravel the truth, we ran a small empirical feature comparison. And what do you know! Both players aren't drastically better or worse. Now there are nerds on Audiophile forums who claim to discern audio quality differences but we'll keep repudiation of such claims to another rant. So why did this now disillusioned member of the team so ferociously defend Winamp? An interesting and often quoted experiment concerning Coke and Pepsi comes to mind.
Now pay close attention to this next bit boys and girls. The Baylor college of Medicine gave subjects unmarked glasses of Cola. All through the experiment the subjects were hooked on to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - that's brain scanner to the uninitiated - which showed that many of them liked Pepsi. Next the researchers told them that they'd been drinking Pepsi. Now an interesting phenomenon was noticed.
The MRI scans of a fraction of subjects who were Coke fanboys, showed their brains trying desperately to mitigate the pleasure centers. What researchers concluded was that huge neural buildups in their brain genuinely prevented them from admitting their preference for Pepsi, or rather that they altered their wiring to suit a bias. So the next time you feel a bout of involuntary verbal diarrhea rising up to defend your favorite 'something', remember your rigid neural networks, remember your biases, remember Spock's cold logic and then comment. Our last word - to each his own.