Imagine that you are a reporter sent to the gates of a stadium shortly before a very important baseball game between the Giants and the Athletics (sorry, Bay Area resident speaking here. For my non-American readers, please replace these with names of famous soccer teams). Your mission is simple: ask people entering the stadium who they think is going to win.
If you ask Giants fans, the answer is guaranteed to be "The Giants, of course!". Well, that’s fine, but that was not the question. You didn’t ask them who they wanted to win, but who they thought was going to win.
The only problem is that in most people’s minds, these questions are completely equivalent.
After all, no matter how much of a Giants fan you are, you might know that their star player is currently injured, another one is not playing today and that the other team has been winning a lot of games recently and on top of that, they are playing in their own stadium. With this in mind, reason should clearly tell you that no matter how much you want the Giants to win, the odds are against them for this particular game. It seems to be common sense, but yet, you will probably not find a single fan reasoning this way.
I call this the "fan syndrome", and this phenomenon is so widespread that I am sure it has a scientific name, which I confess not knowing (if you do, please leave a comment).
Here is another example.
Some time ago, I was following the results of an election and as the day was going by, it was clear that candidate A was going to win over candidate B. Yet, candidate B and his representatives could be seen and heard regularly on the TV saying that they were confident that they were going to win.
I found that attitude puzzling, so I asked a friend why they didn’t simply tell the truth. My friend summarized this attitude with a simple sentence: "Nobody likes to pick a loser".
And then it hit me: what these politicians are doing is simply catering to the "fan syndrome" of their voters. They want to make sure they don’t regret their vote.
What’s troubling with this attitude is that it can actually cause this candidate to really lose the election, whereas they might have turned the tables if they had been forthcoming with the voters. Very often, I have been on the fence about voting. One candidate has my preference but for various reasons, I find myself too busy or not motivated enough on election day. If, during that day, my preferred candidate had come out saying something like "The polls are not looking good for us, so if you haven’t voted yet, please do so, we need all the help we can get", I would probably have overcome my apathy and gone out to vote. And it could very possibly have made a difference.
But because of the "fan syndrome", that’s not how things work and consequently, elections sometimes take a very different path from what common sense would have dictated.
So why am I telling you this?
Because my recent posts questioning whether Ruby and/or Ruby on Rails will ever become mainstream have caused me to receive a lot of emails asking me "Why don’t you like Ruby on Rails?".
And then I understood. Everybody assumes that I suffer from the fan syndrome, or to be more precise, of the "reverse fan syndrome": if I say negative things about something, it means that I don’t like it.
Here is the deal: I have no problem picking a loser. It doesn’t bother me at all. I like underdogs and I actually have a strong track record of liking marginal things in domains as varied as computer technologies, movies, music or even food. But I make a point of never ignoring the realities.
Here is another fact: I love Ruby and I love Ruby on Rails even more. I use both on a regular basis and it’s a constantly pleasant experience. But just because I love these technologies doesn’t mean that you will hear me say that they are going to take over the world. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they won’t and that Ruby on Rails will, sadly, follow the same path as AOP: a great idea that will remain the privilege of a few expert developers. But let’s not get into this debate right now because this is not the point of this article.
My point is this: don’t fall in love with the technologies you like. Just because you made a choice doesn’t mean that it’s the right choice for everybody. Accept this, respect people who disagree with you and consider, just for a moment, that maybe — just maybe — they might actually have a point.
Be a fan, but don’t give in to the fan syndrome.
Update: Discussion on TheServerSide