Paul Graham published this nice essay on haters about two weeks ago. The timing couldn’t have been better - it’s been a long few weeks in the crosshairs at work.

Lots of people who are upset about this product sunset announcement online are perfectly right to feel that way. They sunk a lot of money into their Sonos systems. Of course they’d expect them to keep working for the foreseeable future. (Rest assured - they will!)

However, there’s also a notable trend of comments that start off with: “Well, I’ve never bought a Sonos product, and I never will”, and then go on to justify not buying them with incomplete or incorrect information. Threats of remote brickings, sinister planned obsolescense, and hostile corporate action to enforce Products-as-a-Service seem to be favorite bits of misinformation. It also seems like many of these folks don’t understand the precise details of the announcements. Almost like they, well, uh, didn’t read them.

I can understand why someone who bought an underwhelming product would leave a dissatisfied review on Amazon. Why, though, would you bother going out of your way to spout nasty comments and incorrect information about a product you’d never buy in the first place?

The answer clicked while texting a friend who’s spent most of his career in the video game industry. He’s been gently ribbing me about this crisis for a week or so. (BrickGate? SunsetGate? ObsoleteGate? Surely someone has a clever name for it by now.) I eventually sent him a link to pg’s haters essay. He raised an insightful point: sometimes, being a fanboy and being a hater are two sides of the same coin. Being from the gaming industry, his shining example of the hater/fanboy duality was console gamers. Playstation gamers, Xbox gamers, and Nintendo gamers all love to talk trash about the others’ respective platforms.

It’s a similar situation with hobbyist photographers. Quoting my friend here, as he’s recently gotten into photography:

I think you kind of have to be [a hater of other brands] when you move to be that much of an avid consumer of one thing. I’ve seen that in the camera world now that I’m doing more photography. You have to invest heavily in one brand, which is basically incompatible with all other brands, so the more you invest (and the more passionate you are about that investment) the more you feel compelled to shit on all other brands for even the slightest difference. And all of this in an age where, because of modern camera tech, most cameras can produce an extremely similar image and experience in the hands of a skilled photographer.

Granted, not all fanboys or haters are dualists. Think of fans of K-pop, or a boy band - they don’t spend all of their time and energy trashing other genres, or other boy bands. Just being blindly devoted to BlackPink or *NSYNC is enough.

Similarly: you don’t necessarily have to be strongly in favor of something else when you take a position as a hater. Licorice, capitalism, and Phish all seem to generate this type of hater: the type that says “I don’t care what the alternative is; just gimme something - anything - other than that!”

Then it clicked. The common thread between all of these is identity.

Paul’s parting shot in his essay was: “It’s not you. It’s them.” And he’s totally right. People don’t go onto comment threads to shit on a product they don’t own to show something about the product. They do it to show something about themselves. They’re trying to tell the world that they stand for something. Maybe it’s a K-pop band. Maybe it’s sustainability. Maybe it’s implied long-term support contracts from consumer technology companies. Who knows!

The point that Paul Graham is trying to get at is that these people aren’t acting from any kind of logical, rational position. As such, it’s pointless to reason with them. You’re wasting your breath to do so. This isn’t about you. It’s about them. This little comment box is a chance for them to show the world who they are.

Again: there’s plenty of upset customers who we legitimately need to prove our trustworthiness to. But there’s also a bunch of people who are just talking trash on the internet, because they can. It’s their chance to show the world who they are, and what they stand for.

And why on earth would we bother to convince them otherwise? Doesn’t it seem like a fundamentally losing battle to argue with someone’s identity?

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