Essays on Technology and Culture

Platform Partisans and Freedom of Choice

So, internationally-beloved technology journalist Andy Ihnatko gave up his iPhone for a Galaxy SIII. Cue wailing, gnashing of teeth, and cries of “Betrayer” from the Apple faithful. Or not. I don’t know. Andy’s three piece article, the third act of which I linked to above, is an interesting analysis of the differences between Android and iOS, the strengths and weakness of each, and how they’ve influenced his decision. I can’t fault him for making the choice, especially since my exposure to Android on a phone is my girlfriend’s HTC G2, which runs Android 2.3.

I’ve run into a few of the same problems with my iPhone as Andy, including accidentally triggering dictation, and difficulty moving data between apps. I’ve not, however, had a great deal of desire to do a lot of the tricking out and customization that Android allows. To re-quote the eminently quotable Merlin Mann, I like the “Catholic” experience of Apple, and not having to fiddle with things. iOS works for me out of the box on day one, and a month later, I have it as good as it’s likely ever going to get to suit my needs. Andy agrees. He just wants to go further.

When the first part of Andy’s article dropped, there was grumbling in various quarters of the Internet that, “Well, of course Andy can just drop his iPhone and switch to Android. He gets to play with every new phone that comes out. The rest of us have to make a commitment.” This is a sentiment of resignation mixed with sour grapes that Andy addressed. I suspect that a lot of the partisan rage of our chosen platforms, be it a smartphone, a desktop OS, or a commitment to open source, has a root in the amount of buy-in we have in these things. If you’ve used any platform long enough, worn yourself in, customized everything to your liking, and know how to get a new piece of hardware working the way you like it in a short timespan, jumping to something else is an outright pain the ass. I know, because I only jumped from Windows to Linux, and Linux to Mac after the pain of sticking with the previous choice was higher than the pain of switching.

So, we stick our heels in the mud, get further entrenched, and yell at the people who split from our herd, no matter the reasons behind it. Because we’ve invested so much in our position, someone’s defection from what we consider our group is an insult to ourselves. It’s the narcissism of small differences all over again. Stepping back just a bit, and paying attention to the points someone makes, especially if they disagree with you, helps break that, but it’s hard to do for the reasons outlined above. It can be done, especially when someone with a loud voice and position of journalistic authority expresses themselves. You don’t have to agree, but you have to acknowledge that they have a valid point, and they have the ability to choose without it affecting you.