Apple store, 5th Avenue

Apple

This may glorify an icon, but it’s not a house of worship.

Commentary


Attention fanboys and fangirls: Your favorite tech hardware, software and services are not religious objects. And the companies that make them aren’t cults or faiths. They are capitalist enterprises, out to make a profit, grab market share, and, if they can, make products you will buy.

It’s perfectly normal to like (even to love!) using your iPhone or your Samsung Galaxy. But you can’t get to heaven by using one, and others won’t go to hell for preferring the other. They are just tools — bright, shiny objects that can do some cool things, but still just tools. And it’s perfectly normal for people to like the ones you don’t — people who are otherwise very nice.

It’s really not okay to pour down personal hate and derision on people who happen to use and like a tech product that competes with the one you prefer. I’m pretty sure that kind of behavior violates the tenets of, you know, all the real religions. And it’s really over the top to become so devoted to a tech company that you can’t see the point of view of others who don’t buy, or even like, that company’s products.

Nobody knows this better than tech reviewers. I’ve been a reviewer for a long time, and, like all tech reviewers I know, I’ve been struck by the vehement ad hominem attacks and baseless accusations made by tech cultists who disagree with all, or even part, of your review.

Of course, if you are in the business of dishing out opinions, you must be prepared to receive contrary points of view. That’s fair, and reasonable, and helps one learn. But the tech cultists can’t get their heads around the idea that people — anyone, not just a reviewer — might see the same facts about a product or company and come to different conclusions.

Instead, too many of these acolytes resort to accusations of corruption (you were paid to praise a product) or laziness (you must not have really tested it). These kinds of comments, tweets, blog posts and emails come from people who often have never tried, or even held, the product in question.

The biggest tech religion is the Church of Apple, with countless blogs defending its every move, regardless of whether it’s a good one. Some carry a sort of permanent sense of suspicion from the old days of the 1980s, when using a Mac was considered weird by many.

Not a church

This glorifies an icon, but it’s no house of worship.

Apple cultists are often quick to question not just the judgment, but the motives and personal character of anyone who dares to question the company’s magic touch. And, because they can’t see any other way of thinking, they assume that if you praise or use an Apple product, you must have signed up for the whole religion.

Once, I was accused of being corrupt and lazy for writing a positive review of a new iPad, but having the temerity to list some of its downsides. One Apple fan site immediately called for me to resign. I call this the Doctrine of Insufficient Adulation.

The Church of Apple has begotten a serious group of Apple haters, similarly irrational and mean-spirited, who are quick to conclude that the only explanation for a positive review of an Apple product is a payoff.

But there are other sects as well. There’s a Church of Android, for instance, which displays many of the same characteristics of the Apple faith in failing to see past the virtues of Google’s mobile operating system.

There’s a Church of the Open Source, which sees the work of the devil in any software that’s proprietary, regardless of whether it’s good and well-liked. There was a strong Church of BlackBerry, but it isn’t heard from much today.

Oddly, in my experience, there isn’t much of a Church of Windows. In my many years as a reviewer, I did get emails defending the hugely successful Microsoft operating system as practical and useful, but rarely expressions of love and devotion.

One of my favorite minor sects is the Church of Real Business, which contends that the only platform suitable for real work is a tightly limited Windows PC. This ignores the fact that, every day, plenty of business is conducted, money is made, and products are invented by people using Macs, or Apple or Android mobile devices.

Of course, the companies encourage these unquestioning fanboys and fangirls as evangelists. They do this partly with all-encompassing ecosystems that tie users into their hardware, software and cloud services as seamlessly as possible. This lock-in makes it easy for all your stuff to transfer to a new device or service of their making, and hard to switch.

But the cults can sometimes come back to bite the companies, if the most vocal of the faithful are displeased. Apple has seen this when it made too many changes in its pro video editing software, or when the new iPhone operating system, iOS 7, suddenly made everyone’s phone look different.

Microsoft and its hardware partners are still struggling with the fact that many core Windows users don’t like the idea of using touchscreens and a tablet-style start screen in Windows 8.

It’s fun to like the style and innovation a particular company can bring to an industry. In the 1950s, the U.S. enjoyed a healthy rivalry between Ford fans and Chevy fans. And everyone knows somebody who swears by a particular home appliance maker.

But tech theology goes too far. It blurs the ability to make clear buying decisions and can distort the vital market feedback companies need to improve.

So, to all you fanboys and fangirls out there: Calm down. Enjoy your phones and tablets and laptops and software. But don’t overlook their flaws, and don’t hate people who like other stuff.



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