Follow the herd – The end of critical thinking

I think I am going to throw up if another person I know comes over to me and tells me how much he or she loves their new PowerBook. I have nothing against Apple hardware and I know they make some really great hardware as well as software. (I happen to love my iPod) This is not because I am a Windows/Linux guy – this is because a lot of people I know are getting on the Apple bandwagon following the herd mentality. I have heard so many comments from people who say that they got a Mac because ‘insert-your-own-book-author-pseudo-thought-leader’ has a Mac. It’s great to explore new things, gadgets, etc. and discover ways to improve your computing environment. I use Windows as my primary desktop with Linux acting as my WebLogic, Tomcat, CVS, and MySQL server. I am very happy with that setup and I know I want to get a Powerbook someday and check it out. I am sure I will be very happy with it but my concerns revolve around all the money I’ve spent on software for my Windows box. Some of the things that I use on a daily basis like IntelliJ IDEA are a non-issue as IDEA runs great on a Mac. And I know I would find comparable replacements for a lot of things I use on a daily basis but I’ve got my environment setup to the point where everything just works. I have nightly automated backups of my desktop, I have Remote desktop working so that I can connect to my home machine from anywhere in the world and many other processes where I am not sure if spending more time and money relearning or repurchasing software will be worth my while. But I am completely open to the possibility and hope to find a nice little PowerBook under the Christmas tree.

Before this starts sounding like a rant about Mac, let me clarify. This is NOT a rant about Macs rather it is rant about people that will blindly follow whatever this other ‘cool’ person is doing without giving it any thought. I don’t doubt that Mac’s are a great choice for majority of the people using them. In fact, I have friends that have been Mac users’ for as long as I can remember. Mykl, the Webmaster at Marquette University has always been a Mac user – ever before OS X. I’ve known Mykl for almost 12 years now and he has never used a Mac because he thought it was cool. In fact, I harassed him relentlessly about his choice at every opportunity. Another friend of mine, Pete has also been a Mac user for as long as I’ve known him. He even lost out on a job at my last place of work because the hiring manager thought he was ‘too passionate’ about his requirement of a Mac. And there are many more like Mykl and Pete. They use Mac’s for the right reason – They don’t use it because they think it makes them look cool by association.

The lack of critical thinking goes beyond hardware choice. I cannot tell you how many emails I get from people I know that start out like, “I’m trying to do this in Hibernate and I can’t get it to work”. Ok – Let’s put the cart before the horse. This is another classic scenario where everyone’s blogging about Hibernate and so I have to use it. People are selecting solutions first and them trying to fit their problem domain around it. In this scenario, the person was trying to leverage a ton of existing stored procedures from an old application that they had acquired. This was before Hibernate 3.x where you couldn’t call stored procedures. You would think that before you select a solution and start development, you would spend a few minutes checking out the documentation website to see if the solution can actually do what is required.

Again, this is NOT a Hibernate rant. The same applies to Spring, AJAX or anything else perceived to be ‘cool’ or new. Now I know the desire to learn something new and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I typically will spend countless number of hours and work and home trying out new frameworks, solutions, etc to see if they can offer me an edge. Are these new ‘things’ solving an existing problem in a creative way that is going to simplify my life? And so I play a lot, but I don’t do it in applications that I am getting paid to write. After ‘playing’ with something, I will try and adopt it for my day job if and if only if the value it offers far exceeds the learning curve for the other developers.

The problem is that too many people use all of the latest open-source framework(s) or commercial software without realizing the pitfalls. So when the project fails, who gets the blame? Not the person who chose an inappropriate solution – it’s always the framework or product. Hibernate sucks and so my project failed or Struts sucks, as my application takes too long to load. You get the idea.

What I would like to see is for people to question things a little more. Don’t just assume that because it comes from Apache, it has to be good. People need to start thinking critically, independently and start taking a pragmatic approach to things. Take time and discover for yourself why something is good because you’ll discover something that people pan and ignore may be the best thing since sliced bread in your environment.


12 thoughts on “Follow the herd – The end of critical thinking

  1. I’m with you there on the Mac OS X thing. I’m actually a Linux user. I use Linux on the desktop (as well as the server). I’ve got everything setup how I want it and I am very efficient with Linux. I don’t spend much time tweaking it becomes everything is already in place and it just works. I recently bought a Mac Mini to see what the big deal is with OS X and have been pretty much unimpressed. In fact, I haven’t used it in about 2 weeks and its collecting dust. I’m sure there are some nice things about OS X, but I don’t really understand why so many people make such a big deal of it.


  2. Great. Everyone who has a Mac is a follower and you (being a Windows/Linux guy) are a leader? And people who use Hibernate and people who use Apache…
    Anyone who would use these products didn’t use critical thinking when deciding to do so?

    Wow, it must be tough being you…


  3. Way to go Vinny. You hit the issue right on.

    I noticed that at all these Symposiums ( eg No Fluff , Just Mac 🙂 most of the -your-own-book-author-pseudo-thought-leaders’, used a Mac.
    and then soon if someone carried a poor Dell, you are pretty much a outcast.

    I have had no need yet to reboot my linux server in three years.Recenly I lost one of my Laptops ( blue screen of death) and initially it looked all cool, but soon i started to miss all the little enhancements I had.
    It look me a long time even after having the backups to make the new machine back to the same state.

    The familiar open dos prompt here, cygwin, Firefox plugins and so on.

    In the Microsoft problem , the reverse problem is Microsoft ships the whole world as a part of the .NET, Visual Studio , Team install.

    I have seem folks drag and drop components without having a clue what they are using just based on the fact that some part of the Microsoft site said that was the coolest thing to do.

    When they find they are stuck, they have no clue how to fix.

    Your point on “Don’t just assume that because it comes from Apache, it has to be good” in the Microsoft world is translated to “Assume that everything from Microsoft is good”, which is not always ( or may i say ) never true:)


  4. “Everyone who has a Mac is a follower”. Hmm, I guess I don’t have to point out the flaw in that logic. I hope you aren’t writing software. Like always, the signal to noise ratio for blog comments is on par with the comment author’s anonymity.


  5. Ok anonymous commenter – you are completely missing my point. I am NOT saying all Mac users don’t think – just some of them. In their attempt to emulate people they perceive to be cool, they are using Macs.


  6. You gave into the hype by buying an overpriced MP3 player also known as an IPod. It’s a bit hypocritical to give new Apple users (me included) a hard time when you’re just as guilty.


  7. I have had several people prodding me to buy a Mac, and I keep taking their attention elsewhere after few obligatory complimentary tidbits about Mac to make them happy 🙂

    I am happy with what I have, a PC running Windows 2000 with loads of customization and tons of applications. The only reason I will switch to a Mac is if someone presents it to me and someone volunteers to configures it for me with my favorite applications. The first may be easier looking how people are getting fanatic to move everyone to Mac, the second is harder.

    You have to admit Steve Jobs is a genius in catering to public tastes and sensibility.


  8. Wow. I almost didn’t reply to this blog. I just recently got a PowerBook, too, but not because I’m trying to jump on the bandwagon. I got it because I’m tired of WinDoze and I’ve had fleeting success in getting Linux to run right on a laptop (with sound, peripherals, etc). Plus, I just wanted to see if I could do all of my Java development on a Mac. I still love the *ahem* 4 Linux boxes I have that are mainly server machines, but I never run X on them.

    Oh yeah, by the way, IDEA looks beautiful on OS X. 🙂


  9. Hey, I’m the Pete mentioned in the post… Just for the record I’ve been using computers made by Apple since 1980 and Windows since the mid-90’s and Linux since about 1998 when Vinny set up an account for me. 😉

    Anyway, I was pretty much set to dump the Mac before OS X came out, but it was the perfect combination of what I wanted, unix at the core, with a great UI and user experience on top of it. As for Windows, I’ve always disliked it, and as for me “losing out on a job” it was more like me turning it down if I had to use Windows all day long… Life is too short for me to spend all day using an OS I can’t stand…

    As for “bandwagon jumpers” yeah, too many people see the “cool new thing” that everyone says is the “cool new thing” without fully evaluating it, and make a quick decision. I’d call it part early-adopter, part foolishness in some cases.

    And Vinny, as far as switching from Windows to OS X and dealing with software, there is a ton of open-source stuff that will do what you need. I own very few commercial apps, since I can usually find an open-source solution for OS X, so unless you have some specific niche in software you can’t live without, chances are, you’ll be ok.


  10. Is displaying a lack of critical thinking when making the choice of which notebook to buy really a big deal? But lets go with the argument that this is just one small indicator of a larger systemic problem that developers are not questioning things enough before adopting them.

    I do have to admit that I was a bit dismayed at the speed that the term “dependency injection” was adopted when the word came down from on high in lengthy form that DI was oh so much more preferable to “inversion of control”. Personally I still perfer “hollywood principle”. But to what end? I was annoyed, but there wasn’t really any harm being caused, was there?

    You point out three harms that could occur when people don’t think critically about what they are adopting: people could waste time adopting something that does not meet their needs, people could adopt a solution that may exceed the learning curve required for other people to adopt it, and last of all the technology being adopted could get a bum rap when it fails for the non-critical adopter.

    Of these I see the first two as being significant: these actually have the potential to waste resources. Perhaps you could explain the thrid a little more? Who cares if someone is ignorant about why their adoption failed, are the people you mention actually listened to?

    Setting the harms next to the powerbook comparison makes that part of your blog smell like rant. Or are you suggesting that these powerbook followers will a) find their shiny new powerbook inadequate and blame Apple, or b) prevent other people from being able to use their computer?

    I like analogies– what do you think of this one: lots of people love cars that they know little about mechanically, suck way too much gas, and provide a substandard amount of cargo room for their category. But they look cool, smell nice, have little touches here and there, and other bells and wistles that make you smile. 🙂


  11. I play MMORPGs a lot. And this post reminds me of the “anti fanbois” sentiment.

    On one side you have the fanbois: the people that really like what they have; and on the other you have the guys who hate them. Ironically, these anti-fanbois generally feel that THEY are the critcal thinkers; and the fanbois are mindless drones who just like what they like because — well they like it.

    It’s a fairly assinine attitude.


Comments are closed.