Josh, Ross and T.C.: This is who I am
I was a caller on The Vergecast yesterday (8/29/13). "Scott" (my real name), the one who likes his Q10. After the interesting conversation I had with Josh, Ross and T.C. yesterday, and in response to Ross' exasperated exclamation ("Who are you?!"), I've done some thinking and submit the following. I hope it will be taken in the spirit in which it is intended--gentle criticism from a big fan. Please note that this is not the critique of a person who is annoyed that The Verge doesn't like his particular gadget. This is about how people react when they encounter someone whose opinion differs from their own.
This is who I am:
1. A normal guy: Mid-thirties, advanced degree, stable job.
2. A fan: I've been a Verge member since day one.* I find the editors and writers here to be generally thoughtful, fairly well informed, and entertaining. I enjoy the tech coverage and much of the expanded coverage to areas that have traditionally not been covered by The Verge.
3. A curious guy: I was intrigued to see the reaction of Josh, Ross and T.C. yesterday as they encountered someone (me) who didn't fit their narrative of the typical Blackberry user. Their reactions started with disbelief ("I feel like we're being pranked?", "I'm having trouble believing this.") to dismissal with a hint of derision ("I worry a lot about you, man"). The first of these is entirely understandable. Many times in life it is useful to create a story about how the world works because it helps us make sense of a very complex system. The story that no rational person would ever leave the iPhone 5 for a Blackberry is useful in many ways, in part because evidence suggests that many people are not choosing to leave the iPhone for Blackberry. However, I would suggest that complete disagreement and dismissal in the way that occurred yesterday is not the most useful (i.e. journalistic) way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance that you were feeling.
The words "I worry a lot about you, man" suggest that somehow I am worthy of your pity because I have made a different decision than you. Perhaps more useful questions to ask would be "The Q10 seems to be optimal for this person, what about his life makes that true? Are there a lot of people like him? Is it possible that I need to expand my internal narrative about how the world works in this area?"
As an example of a similar situation, consider the "Windows is poison" thing from a while ago. The Verge's editors, by and large, work in a business and do things with their lives that are consistent with using Apple products. By many objective measures, these Apple products are better than competing products from other manufacturers (I use them myself). However, many, many people use Windows laptops because of a specialized piece of software that is only available on Windows, or because of a compatibility requirement they have at work, or because their non-tech savvy partner is used to using them or because they find the design of a particular Apple product undesirable or one of a hundred other reasons. When statements like "Windows is poison" are made, it is easy to dismiss all of the complaints that you get as having come from fanboys who are rabid for Ballmer. This way of escape is far too easy. A better approach might be to ask, "what about these people's lives makes it optimal for them to use these products?" It might be hard to see, but the reason that people react so vehemently to the statement "Windows is poison" (or similar) is not because they are stupid fanboys, but because they are rational, thinking people who have made optimal decisions that you are implying are not optimal (whether this is your intention or not). You come off as somehow knowing better than them what they should do in their lives. How would you react if I told you that you make stupid decisions? If you are like most people, you'll be defensive, standoffish, looking to find things about me that you could deride, etc. Specifically, you will react in a way that might accurately be described as "fanboyish."
All of this is not to say that you should refrain from stating opinions. I value what you say about new products and use that information when making purchasing decisions. I read Chris Ziegler's review of the Q10 at least twice when considering purchasing the phone. What I am arguing is that perhaps there is room for the editorial staff to expand their view of the ways that individuals use technology and the lives that people lead. The spectrum of uses for technology is vast and you have experience in a particular slice of that spectrum. Also, there is more room to view your readers as thinking, intelligent individuals who choose the products they choose because of the lives they lead and their own aesthetic sense (which is just as valid as yours), rather than because they are uninformed or unintelligent.
To finish, I think Josh handles these phone calls fairly well. I appreciate his attempts to show respect to his caller's opinions. That being said, this interaction reminded me a little of the interaction that Josh had a while ago with Ari Emanuel that led to Josh's brilliant post entitled Ari Emanuel, this is where I work. Josh introduced some cognitive dissonance into Emanuel's world and Emanuel's reaction was to be an aggressive, domineering asshole. That is not how I would characterize Josh, Ross and T.C.'s reaction to me yesterday, but just like Ari, they had a difficult time dealing with the cognitive dissonance and came off being dismissive. I like Josh, Ross and T.C. (at least their online personas, which I have no reason to think are not an accurate representation of their personalities) and I like The Verge. I think it could be even better if they expanded their view of how people use technology and treated their readers with a little more respect.
Except for the Android fan boys. I hate those stupid assholes.
* I'm posting this under a new account both to maintain some level of privacy around here and to avoid any potential ad hominem attacks that sometimes come from life on the internet.