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In Defense of “Fanboys”.

On zealots, Kool-Aid drinkers, and the like

Any journalist who has ever written anything even slightly critical of Apple has suffered the wrath of the small, but vocal Apple zealotry. The same goes for the Red camera. In days gone by Media 100 users could get quite agitated as well. Among my colleagues it’s a running joke. If you want to boost your numbers, criticize Apple or Red. Today’s Boston Globe featured an interesting blurb on the phenomenon. Farhad Manjoo has released some excerpts of his forthcoming book, True Enough.

Having not read the entire book, I’m not qualified to dispute or endorse its thesis. Rather I’d like to indulge in a rare bit of irony and come to the defense of the much maligned fanboy. Manjoo writes:

There are many tribes in the tech world: TiVo lovers, Blackberry addicts, Palm Treo fanatics, and people who exhibit unhealthy affection for their Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. But there is no bigger tribe, and none more zealous, than fans of Apple, who are infamous for their sensitivity to slams, real or imagined, against the beloved company. “It’s funny — even if I write a generally positive piece about Apple, I still get more complaints from Apple partisans” than from opponents, Mossberg says. He has even coined a term for the effect. “I call it the Doctrine of Insufficient Adulation.”

Perceived bias is a fact of life in journalism. In j-school we learned that if both sides are unhappy with your writing you probably got it right. But that doesn’t explain what Mossberg and Manjoo are moaning about. Manjoo seems to place all the blame on blind zealotry:

But for people who feel strongly about an issue — for Apple fanatics, for abortion partisans, for folks who think they know the truth about global warming or what’s going on in the Middle East — personal views feel distinct and luminous. Journalistic “objectivity” inevitably produces a muddier picture.

When they come upon that difference — the gulf between what’s in their heads and what’s on the page — the audience tends to assume the worst: The reporter must be licking someone’s balls.

I offer opinions on neither geopolitics nor computer platforms, but I have my own theory on the passion of Apple and Red supporters and what we can learn from them. When someone chooses not to use the dominant platform for a given task, he or she has taken a significant risk. Remember the old axiom: No one ever got fired for picking IBM? The same holds true for Windows over Mac OS X, Sony or Panasonic over Red, and – back in the day – Avid over Media 100. Any perceived slight to the minority platform calls into question the business owner’s judgment. That business owner is more likely to be questioned by clients about his or her decision. Thus the minority stake holder is more vehement in defense of his or her position.

What we learn from the fanboys

Interestingly enough, should the fanboy’s chosen platform become a dominant, or at least significant, player in the space dissent (real or perceived) becomes tolerated. In the past year I’ve noticed that I can point out flaws in Final Cut Pro without need of a fireproof suit. It’s not because FCP users are any less passionate about their tools in 2008. It’s just that they are no longer fielding questions from skeptical clients about why they aren’t using an Avid.


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