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Anatomy of a Fanboy

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Whether it’s on a technology forum or a sporting event, we’ve all met those rather enthusiastically one sided fans that could be described as a fanboy. While not as much of a derogatory title as it used to be, the name is still not used as a flattering remark. But nonetheless it is a commonly used label for reference, and more than likely you know what I mean when the term is used. And while today the word is used more in geek cultures, you will find the same described character across many aspects of modern life.

But what does it take to create such a character? Are fanboys born, or created? In researching this question, it seems that there are five traits that are common across all fanboys that you will find. Not all five always apply in every case (economic pressures may not always be present, for example), but the traits are common enough to be categorized. So, what are these five components that make up the anatomy of your average fanboy? Let’s take a look.

The Tribal Urge to Belong

Ever since man first hunted in packs and slept in groups for safety, the advantage of doing so was readily apparent. If you hunted by yourself, then the larger prey more than likely made YOU the prey. And if you slept by yourself, then there was a good chance that you could end up a tasty midnight snack for another beast. Natural selection favored the tribal mentality.

Fast forward to today, and we have our tribes alive and well. You can find them in sports (“Da Tribe” ring a bell?), business (“No I in Team” is a popular business tribe chant), and online gaming (Warcraft, anyone?). The tribe mentality is even applied to branding and products, with the same type of loyalty that you would expect from any tribe member.

This tribal mentality, while it is great for survival, may not work so well when it comes to online forums about tech products. After all, if anyone says something negative about the tribe, then the members defend it. After all, to not do so could make the tribe weaker, and natural selection has favored those that protect the tribe. In a very real way, the average fanboy has been bred by nature to be a pain on a forum.

Risk and Reward Assessment Mechanics

Human beings are fairly simple – they place a high value on a pleasurable experience, and a negative value on a bad experience. But to have an experience to even sample, you have to take a risk in accessing the experience. If our ancestors wanted a delicious egg, then they had to climb the rocks and fight off the attacking flying beasts in order to obtain it, and the risk paid off. Likewise, the risk of attacking a large beast for meat was no doubt often met with disaster. In time, the fine process of building an appropriate risk/reward system was essential to survival, and the ones that did it best had the clear survival.

But once these risk/reward values were in place, questioning them would threaten a lifetime’s worth of learned survival instinct. This could be very dangerous to the immediate need of staying alive and thriving, and so it was protected by the individual at all costs.

Today you will find the developed risk/reward value system being strongly defended on almost any forum you happen to participate in. The risk could be following a team, and the reward is a national championship, or it could be something much smaller. But asking someone to question their base risk/reward system will often be met with protective hostility.

Emotional Attachment to the Economics of Choice

Today we place a high value on money in one form or another, and for good reason – money can buy almost anything. Money empowers people for both everyday survival (food costs money) and enjoyment. Without money, you can find a great situation turned into a potentially dire one rather quickly in most cases.

But when you spend money, you are taking a chance that the product you buy will be the right choice. The more astute of you may note that this is another example of the risk and reward assessment mechanics at work, and you are indeed correct. But the emotional attachment to the role of economics is so universal today that it bears mentioning on its own merits.

It takes a lot to make money in today’s world, and often there is a less than ample amount for all of the choices. If you can’t buy both a PS3 and a XBox 360, then you will have to choose. And when you go online to discuss your wonderful hard won choice, you will naturally want to find that it was a good choice. Otherwise, hey, you can’t make financial decisions.

And if you can’t make good financial decisions, then you are going to be in trouble. The writing is on the wall, you are doomed to be a poor, insolent character that is stuck playing on a console that sucks, or so you are afraid. So you defend your choice, which proves to the world that you are indeed a wise choice maker, and that you and yours will prosper in the economic time to come.

The Desire to be Tribal Elder

Getting the tribal elder gig is a great job. Your decisions, which as we have seen are so crucial to survival, are not questioned. If you decide to climb the rocks for the egg, the rest of tribe are going to be patting you on the back and telling you how smart you are. Not only do you have positive reinforcement for what you decide, but in a lot of cases the risk is minimal ( the young of the tribe will climb the rocks) for the given reward.

Today people will literally spend years in a forum in an attempt to obtain the elder mantle. The forums themselves will often play into this, with badges of accomplishments and number of posts. And once this perceived mantle is obtained, then the decisions made by the person has some clout. It reinforces their own decisions, and often they have a flock to defend such decisions from any nay sayers that stumble upon the forum.

The flock have their eye on the elder position as well, so it becomes a very tight group that will not listen to another opinion. In fact, the odd viewpoint will often be attacked en masse, lest someone be seen as a non-worthy elder successor.

Self Denial (Old Fashioned Jealousy)

On occasion, the person with the differing viewpoint may actually have a good point that makes sense. When that happens, it forces one to re-evaluate their position. But when the money is spent, the 20 console specific games are bought, or the tickets to the playoffs are booked, it is hard to backpedal on your choice. So what do a lot of people do? Simple – they deny it.

They deny it with a passion. These are the folks that tend to get really hot under the collar. The rambling rant thrown against you and your future heirs is actually there to convince themselves that all is good. They are basically building a wall that proclaims, “You are foolish, my choices are good, and my survival is imminent”.

Well, that may be a bit heavy handed, but you get the idea. And often these are the folks that scurry for supporting evidence to support their viewpoint and to drown out yours. They secretly and often very briefly want your choices, but in no time are back on track with their original point of view.

While some of these five traits overlap, it is easy to see how they play a role in forming a fanboy that we all know and loathe. To some extent we are all fanboys (sorry ladies, you too) about our choices, and even the most pure must put some weight behind their decisions. But do everyone a favor and try not to rant excessively about how great your decision was and how poor mine was – sometimes the understated argument delivers the most convincing viewpoint.


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