The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 03 September 2010]

The inner rage of nerds

It’s easy to become disheartened with the state of technology punditry. This post examines why and suggests a quick fix that, if implemented, would improve the state of tech journalism on the Internet by about a million percent.

I like to believe that nerds are normal, adjusted people. After all, I am one.

Sadly, the evidence does not support my beliefs. That evidence being the technology journalism and punditry—the natural reading sources for nerds—occurring on the Internet day in and day out. I’m going out on a limb here to guess that the writing is like it is since that’s what drives page views and page views pay for donuts and the circle of life continues. So both readers and writers must get something out of it.

What’s so wrong about it, then? Well, it seems that nerds are unable to comprehend the idea that there’s not really a right and wrong way for everything. There are different ways, and those ways all have advantages and disadvantages, and different gadgets, software, and so on will appeal to different people in different ways. So it is possible for several products to inhabit the same perch on the tree of life and appeal to different audiences. At the same time. Without a kung-fu death match.

If all you read are tech blogs and magazines, the preceding graph is just a hippie loser pipe dream. All products must kill all other products, and there can only ever be one product which is the One True Product. It stands, one hand on its fist and the other grasping a smoking M-16, as it glares steely-eyed at the wasteland of death and carnage it has wrought on the other, less perfect, products.

Or something like that. Anyway, there can only be One True Product. I first heard this idea called The Highlander Fallacy on the Angry Mac Bastards podcast (which is jolly good fun if you’re into listening to three middle-aged nerds getting all agitated about stuff.), and that encapsulates the reasoning—”there can only be one.”

For a prime example, google “iphone killer” and prepare to be depressed.

To make the highlander idiocy clearer, transfer it to another field. Let’s say, cars. When Volvo released the XC70, how many car journalists slobbered all over themselves about how it was The Subaru Outback Killer?

That would be none. Why? Because it’s ridiculous to believe that one product can satisfy an entire market. Read that again. It’s insanity to believe that any one product can satisfy everybody who is in the market for a particular sort of product. People are different. People like different things. People value different things. What gets your balloon all engorged doesn’t do a thing for another person. That’s called being an individual.

I don’t know why it crops up all the time, but since I have a blog and am a nerd, I have theories. The most depressing theory is that nerds like systems with rules, systems with an objective reality. You’re smart, you’ve looked into the issue, you’ve reached a conclusion. Boom! Anybody who reaches a different conclusion is wrong.

Ah, bliss.

Another and certainly not orthogonal theory is that nerds are psychologically stunted sad cases who never evolved beyond the moralities of fifth grade. One must win!

Another theory, and again not orthogonal, is that nerds seriously need to find some outlet for their tensions[^2]. If you find yourselves typing a frothing-at-the-mouth screed about a product you have never used and have no intention of ever using, you might have a problem.

Perhaps these theories are all wrong. Perhaps it’s something completely different. But whatever it is, we need to find and correct the root cause so we can have some relief from the stupid crap that fills tech websites.

So I implore you, whether you write on your little bloggy-blog like I do or you write for the freaking Wall Street Journal, at least try to never write an article about how product X is a product Y killer. It makes you look like an idiot.

A lazy idiot.

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