The age of the fanboy is drawing to a close

In this profession you come across all sorts of fanboys (and for that matter fangirls ... let's not be sexist here, but for the sake of brevity I'll use the term "fanboy" in a gender-neutral way). But the age of the fanboy is drawing to a close
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

In this profession you come across all sorts of fanboys (and for that matter fangirls ... let's not be sexist here, but for the sake of brevity I'll use the term "fanboy" in a gender-neutral way). But the age of the fanboy is drawing to a close.

There are the obvious fanboy camps, such as Mac, and Linux, but fanboys and fanboyism exists all across the board. I've come across cellphone fanboys, web hosting fanboys, even CD/DVD disc maker fanboys. These people hold a vehement, unwavering belief that their particular choice in life (usually some sort of purchase, but not always) is without a shadow of a doubt the best possible choice anyone could make, and anyone making a different choice is some sort of sad loser. Usually this rabid zealotry comes down to a need to justify spending money on something, or committing to something, and at its root is usually a whole lotta insecurity. After all, why care what someone else spends their money on or choose to do?

I don't.

While I'm more than happy to offer someone advice on a potential purchase, and have my own wants, beds, desires and biases (yes, biases) my level of overall passion about the issue is low. Why? I have better things in life to worry about. And anyway, at least when it comes to tech, sometimes if it wasn't for rabid fanboys early adopters, we'd never see some products mature to the point where they become useful to the masses.

Fanboys also make the job interesting, and highly entertaining. I'm not sure if all my colleagues feel like I do, but for me, it's a perk of the job. Sometimes I'm genuinely not sure if some of them are real fanboys or making fun of fanboy attitudes. Then there are those who are clearly deranged. They're the best. It's comedy gold. I might not agree with a single word they've typed, but I defend their right to be able to hold their view and freedom to say it, no matter how bonecrushingly dense and stupid it might be.

But the era of the fanboy is coming to an end.

It's coming to an end because the walls between platforms and technologies are crumbling, and the boundaries between products and services has blurred to the point of almost being transparent. We think nothing of shopping for a PC at Amazon on a Mac, using the Firefox browser and then having the confirmation email sent to a Gmail account, while talking on Skype and chatting on Windows Live Messenger. Brand loyalty across platforms and services is not a consumer strong point any more. If it were, there'd be one outright dominant car in a particular class, one type of pizza, and the Coke vs. Pepsi war would have been sorted out years ago.

My blogging buddy Jason Perlow is right when he says that the exclusive Apple "club" that fanboys have been able to claim membership of purely on the basis of being able to buy something is coming to an end (at least membership to the Linux fanboy club required members to have a certain - usually quite a high level - of knowledge and expertise). You can't sell millions of iPods, iPhones and iPads, not to mention millions of Mac every quarter to first-time without diluting, and then terminally polluting, the whole fanboy fanbase. Only the most blinkered person can maintain the illusion of exclusivity in the face of millions of people walking around with the same product. But for Apple fanboys there's the double-whammy of not only realizing that that the club is over, but in also discovering that Apple sold them out by shifting focus away from Mac OS and it's war with Microsoft and moved on to iOS and the far more lucrative cellphone and consumer electronics market. Apple is now mass market, and while that's a good thing (for Apple), it also has its drawbacks. Take a look for example through Apple's iPhone 4 discussion forum and you'll see battles raging between those who have bought an iPhone 4 and see it as an inferior product made by a company that's capable of making mistakes, and those who see it as a holy artefact straight from the mind of a deity - and the consumers who just see it as a product are winning the battles.

But this isn't just something that affects Apple fanboys. Take Linux. That special feeling of being part of something different must have taken a nosedive once the OS was on sale at outlets such as Dell. Once again, consumerism lowers the hurdle to adoption to a point where a mass market can step over it. The ultimate apotheosis to fanboyism is the mainstream market.

I'm not suggesting for on moment that fanboys will disappear either overnight or completely (even smallpox, which has been eradicated from the wild, still exist in labs). Heck, I wouldn't want that to happen because if nothing else I'd miss out on the laughs. But their era of influence, at least in areas where they've existed before, is coming to an end. In an era where anyone with a web connection can have a say, the old fanboy favorite of drowning out the opposition no longer works. Everyone has equal say, and all opinions carry the same weight.

The fanboys have been disarmed.

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