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I pledge allegiance to my gadgets: Fanboys and the rise of the megacorporation

apple store line fanboyPretty much any article you read online that sings the praises of one company or product while denigrating a competitor will garner comments from a flock of fanboys. In the tech world, discussions can boil over as self-appointed defenders of a brand flame anyone who disagrees with them. The term fanboy has become an insult. It’s almost a dirty word that’s thrown at anyone who shows a little too much blind faith in the subject of their undying loyalty.

The term fanboy really just means a “passionate fan,” but some people are so determined and blinkered in their love of a specific brand that they push beyond reason or logic. Why do people get so worked up?

The rise of the megacorporations

William Gibson popularized the term megacorporation, but sci-fi writers from Philip K. Dick to Robert A. Heinlein have also written about them. In theory, massive conglomerates enjoy near monopolies in multiple markets and generate greater income than many nations. Consequently, they wield a great deal of power and represent different cultures to their employees and loyal customers.

As tech giants like Apple, Microsoft and Google spread their tentacles into many aspects of our lives, you have to wonder if we’re really that far away from megacorporations becoming a reality. Anti-trust laws may hold them back right now, but the power some companies already wield is both impressive and frightening. Why do people get so attached?

The cult of Apple

Apple fans have become so notorious for their allegiance, even The Simpsons lampooned “Mapple” and its brainwashed fans. The loyalty that the company commands is unbelievable. As traditional brick and mortar outlets seemed to be crumbling, Apple somehow launched retail stores to huge success. People camp out days in advance for the chance to buy the latest releases at premium prices. The iPod, the iPhone, and now the iPad have become permanent fixtures in the popular vernacular.

Apple is worth more than any other company in the world. We’re talking more than $600 billion. It has around $100 billion in the bank, and generated total sales worth more than $100 billion in 2011. That’s more than the GDP of many nations round the world.

Whenever anyone posts anything negative about Apple, there’s usually a flurry of defensive strikes. A lot of companies have fanboys, but no one else can boast the support Apple has. I’ve given up understanding it. I get the stylish design. I understand the “it just works” mantra. But the smug attitude, the restrictive walled garden, and the unjustified premium prices put me off. I look at Apple and just see greed.

Obviously Apple fans see something else. There was a great study last year that showed Apple devotees are stimulated by Apple imagery in the same way that the brains of religious people are stimulated by religious imagery.

Other minions

Worth a paltry $260 billion now, Microsoft also once hit that $600 billion high tide mark. In fact Microsoft is the only other company to have been valued that highly. Anyone who believes Microsoft is winning the tech battle should take a look at that fall.

There’s no denying Microsoft is not well liked, but there are still plenty of fanboys out there who ride to the rescue every time a negative word is uttered about the company. In the mobile space, Microsoft is nowhere, yet many analysts continue to predict a big market share. The fact Microsoft muscled into the game console space is often cited as proof the company will succeed wherever it aims to.

microsoft logo headquarters redmondI get it even less with Microsoft. The company has engaged in countless dodgy practices. Windows Phone is clearly inferior to iOS and Android. Plenty of people, including Adam Hartung at Forbes, have questioned CEO, Steve Ballmer’s abilities, or lack of. What’s to like?

I know what you’re thinking

You’re thinking “Shut up you Google fanboy”. You were, weren’t you? Well you’re wrong. I hate Google too. I just hate them less than Apple and Microsoft.

Google is worth less than $200 billion, but rising pretty steadily. Personally, I think Google Maps was an awesome giveaway. I think Android is a good mobile platform, but the credit for the hardware goes to the manufacturers rather than Google. When I first used Google it was simply the best search engine around. Nowadays it isn’t. The quality of search results has declined. The whole ad-serving personalization movement is annoying. I get why people dislike Google, but it still seems to draw a surprising and disproportionate amount of vitriol.

Am I a fanboy?

I like to think I buy products because they are good, and not because of the brand. (Yes, I realize this is unlikely to be entirely true.) I have an Android smartphone because it’s the best smartphone on the market (my shiny new Samsung Galaxy S3 just arrived). I have a Kindle. I have an iPod. I have a PS3. I have a Sony TV. I have a Sony laptop. Oh right… wait a minute.

The closest I come to feeling that fanboy fervor is Sony. Up until the big PlayStation Network debacle and ongoing outages, I never had a bad word to say about the company. That gleaming, perfect record that stretched back to the original PlayStation has now been ruined. Although I do still find Sony products more alluring than other brands, I’ve never felt compelled to defend them. I can read pages of criticism and it doesn’t really bother me, at least it doesn’t bother me as much as people singing the praises of Apple or Microsoft.

Defending Goliath

For me, the idea that these multi-billion dollar companies need defending at all just grates. Apple makes some pretty cool products, but the insistence that it’s the origin of all innovation is a total fallacy. Microsoft makes Windows, which I use, but surely no one is laboring under the impression that it’s the leading light of tech. It’s questionable whether the “You can make money without doing evil” philosophy still holds true for Google.

None of these companies needs rabid fans attacking their detractors. Fanboys are so annoying because it’s not enough for them to vote with their dollars and offer an opinion when asked for it – they have a burning desire to force their uninvited views on others. (I was asked to write this column, by the way.) How they can get so angry about someone criticizing their brand of choice is beyond me. Could it be that a brand becomes so embedded in a person’s self-image that attacks on a company like Apple start to feel like personal attacks? How far would they take it? Can you imagine running battles between Apple and Google fans in the streets?

Honestly, I don’t care what tech products you choose to enjoy in the comfort of your own home. That’s between you and the device in question.

Please excuse the use of hyperbole in this article. If you read it all the way through to here without the urge to skip down and post a hateful comment, then you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re probably not a fanboy.