Friday, March 28, 2008

Flamewars and rationalisation (vi versus emacs anyone?)

Arguments of proponents of some particular technology are often rationalisations. People choose one by chance, because they encounter it first or at the right moment or because some other superficial reason. Then they need to invest a lot of their time to learn it and that makes them to feel connected to the it. No one would accept that that deep connection was an effect of pure chance - so they start rationalise, to think up reasons why. And because deeply inside they know how untrue those arguments are - they seek a 'social proof' and start online flamewars to convince others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sure, reasons for adopting one standard over another are very contingent on social and accidental effects. (BTW : did you read my competitive networks paper yet?)

I think people get so emotional because it's *hard* (ie. expensive) to keep learning and adapting to new standards, and because they *do* recognise that the other guy's standard is often arbitrary.

Think about it from a pure economic rationality perspective.

Having invested time in learning X I don't want to have to learn alternative Y just because some guy I need to co-ordinate with happened to get into Y first. I may or may not think that X is "better" but I do know that it's cheaper for me. So it's rational to spend some effort to try to persuade the other guy that X is better (or at least preferable).

There's almost no limit as to how much energy I'm willing to spend trying to persuade him that X is better. Even when I've spent far more energy it would have originally cost me to learn Y, because that energy has now been spent and can't be recovered, but the cost of learning Y is still there in front of me.

In fact, the only time it's worth me giving up trying to persuade him that X is better is a) if I'm convinced that he won't change or if b) if the cost of the *next* incremental persuassion attempt is higher the cost of learning Y.

Now, even when, say, my boss, makes a definitive decision that we'll use, say, Java rather than Python and I can no longer appeal directly to him, I may *still* hope that by routing around him and appealing to the world in general (via public discussion forums) I may change the climate of opinion in favour of Python and so, indirectly get his decision reversed.

So, yeah, I can see that there *could* be deep psychological reasons for irrational attachments, but flame-wars can also fall out of naive self-aggrandizing rational agents too.

(phil - not wanting to log in on this computer)