A Thing I Didn’t Want to Talk About: Tech Communities

This is something I’ve been mulling over for a while on if I should do it. But recently, I decided I should just do it to at least get it off my chest.

For much of the past decade I’ve been a participant in some tech community on the internet. Whether it’s a website dedicated to PC enthusiasts or tech in general, I’ve hopped from place to place, spending some time there, then ultimately leaving. Every time I left, I always was left wondering what happened. Was it me? Probably. But as I went over to another place and left, I started to see similar problems. There was no specific problem about the place itself, only a collection of problems that seems to be a common theme throughout.

I’ve settled the issue of these communities into three key points.

As a disclaimer, I’m not saying that I’ve never been guilty of one of these points and not everyone in every place have these problems. It’s that when I leave, these problems are the most prominent.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The short of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is that once people gain some knowledge, skill, and/or experience, they tend to overestimate their own competence. I feel like this starts to become a problem when people built their own computer. There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment in what’s basically a high tech version of building a Lego set. However, this is not even scratching the surface. This is simply arriving at the coast of the vast sea of tech and everything is underneath the surface.

This can get even worse when someone decides to look into a niche enough area. One of the areas I’ve seen a lot of this in is power supplies. It’s a deceptively complicated subject, moving into the realm of electrical engineering more-so than the other hardware you put in your computer. As such, not a lot of people are aware of the finer points of power supplies. Those that are aware, tended to draw hard conclusions about things, and worse yet, could not explain to me when asked how they got to that conclusion. The conversation basically went:

Me: Can you explain how X is better than Y?
Them: I don’t know, it’s just better.

Really. They certainly were parading around their knowledge like they actually built the things.

Another time, I was discussing with another about software threads and how they fit in the software architecture of video games. It got to a point where the other person I was talking to admitted that they had almost no knowledge of programming. Yet they still wanted to argue as if their points were still valid and that somehow mine were not.

Using Knowledge to Dominate

Having knowledge about something is good! It’s something that we should all be continuing to take in. But where knowledge becomes dangerous is how it’s used. In this case, knowledge was being used to dominate. To make someone feel stupid. Or simply to wave the proverbial e-peen around because they’ve always wanted to do the Bart Simpson “I am so great!” song and dance.

That’s where I see the problem. In an age where information is just a Google Search away, people want to find an outlet to dump their knowledge. They haven’t figured out however there’s a time and a place for that. Or at worst, they just want people to submit to them, and they think once they’ve found a target that appears to not know as much, they pounce on them.

A Closed Mind

An obvious example of this are the fanboy groups. You got your Intel fanboys, Apple fanboys, Sony fanboys… If it’s a large enough company, chances are there are people fanboying over it.

However, another kind of closed mindedness that I find far more dangerous are the “it’s worked for me, therefore, it works for everyone!” or it’s opposite “it never worked for me, so it doesn’t work.” As Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame said (which actually came from a Dr. Who episode): “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” It this kind of thinking that makes having discussions in tech communities awful.

Examples of this that I can think off the top of my head:

  • Cloning the OS drive, in the case of migrating from a hard drive to a solid state one, is always a bad idea. And here’s me, where I’ve done this more than a handful of times without problem. The funny thing is that when I asked why this was a bad idea, nobody could explain it with sufficient detail and some reasons I’ve heard (e.g., “Windows doesn’t know it’s now on an SSD”) don’t hold up.
  • The idea that Apple could come up with a CPU that indeed, can offer competitive performance against x86 processors. They kept reasoning something like “it’s made for mobile, so it can’t be as powerful”
  • That Windows Vista and 8 were usable, if not fine. I bought a laptop with Windows Vista back in 2007, before SP1. I found it completely fine. When I switched my main desktop to Vista shortly after, again still no issues with it. A similar story happened with Windows 8. It was to the point where I was called a Microsoft shill for saying something remotely nice about the OS.
  • VRAM consumption is more complicated to get an accurate bead on than just looking at MSI Afterburner or whatever reporting tool of choice and looking a number.

Ultimately, the problem is that once people have reached a conclusion about something, even when they haven’t tried doing the thing themselves, people aren’t open to the idea that their conclusion may be wrong, incomplete, or only applicable in certain situations.

What did I do on my end to avoid being a hypocrite?

While I haven’t really paraded these around publicly, I did try to keep those points in mind to avoid falling into doing them myself. This included:

  • Researching about a subject that I could not provide a clear answer to.
  • Verifying what I’m about to say, if I wasn’t too sure about it
  • If making assertions about something, providing links about it
  • Assuming that whoever I’m talking to if I’m not responding to someone asking for help is they’re at least familiar enough with the subject matter. At the very least, on the same level as me. i.e. I’d rather overestimate how much the person I’m talking to knows
  • When presented with a point contradictory or different to my own conclusions, think about how they got to that conclusion. If it’s something they’ve done to come to the conclusion and something I can do, do it.
  • In the end: this not a game. Nobody else is going to care how many brownie points you’ve won.

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