Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why do geeks get religious about computers? Human evolution.

What is it about computers that makes us (I include myself) want to get all religious about them? .NET is better than Java. Ruby is better than Python. Mac is better than Windows. Linux is better than Mac. C vs. C++ vs. Java. OpenGL vs. DirectX. Xbox 360 vs. PS3. Intel vs. AMD. x86 vs. PPC. ATI vs. NVidia. Google vs. Microsoft. Maya vs. Max. Whatever two competing products you can think of in the computer world, people will get religious about the difference between them.

I've concluded the driving factor for this is because computers are horrible devices. We all have lost work because of a bug or a bluescreen, or we've spent time coding something that was just painful to do because someone told you to use language X. So the natural tendency is to cling onto whatever you think is going to help you get through your day when it comes to using a computer. I cling onto .NET on Windows because I feel like I can be more productive than if someone walked up and told me to use Java on Linux. My friend (who I'm having a mini-flame war with in private email about whether Apple designs closed systems) believes in his Mac because he feels he can get done what he needs to get done.

And how about the excitement that people have when they see something new, fancy and meaningless in computers, like Vista's 3D flip feature in Aero or Mac's Expose feature. These really do just about nothing to make one's life significantly easier, but the promise is there, and that makes people excited. Myself included... I installed Vista on my work laptop because I had hope that it would fix some issues and make my life easier (as it turned out, ATI drivers bluescreened my laptop when it would automatically hibernate in the middle of the night, so I had to remove Vista and reinstall XP from scratch)

So why do people get religious just because computers suck? I think it has something to do with human evolution and religious worldview. I'm reading Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion right now, wherein he waxes poetic about religious belief itself being an evolutionary trait. It hit me this morning that maybe that same genetic propensity is what drives religious wars in computers. The same genetic whatever that made us think that a god would strike us down with lightning because we worshiped a false idol makes us think that we're going to get a crash playing Battlefield 2142 on a AMD/ATI combination. The combination of bad luck and weird superstitious genes in our blood, plus the sucky, buggy nature of computers drives us to act this way. And a lot of people who do this are themselves atheists with a background in science, yet their logic breaks down. For example, someone buys the Mac because they claim it's built better -- even though the Mac is built by the same Chinese manufacturer that outsources for several PC vendors. Or I would claim that C# is better than Java, and can point to reasons why, even though Java is in much wider use and has the advantage of not being tied to Windows (vastly outweighing the language features).

What can we do? Not sure. I sometimes wonder if we'll ever get to the point where contained devices (like the iPhone or Treo) would ever usurp the general PC. It would be nice to have a device that did the one thing it's supposed to do really really well. But I can't think of a device that would let me get through my workday that would work this way -- I multitask way too much.

I guess we could always just pray.

No comments: