Personal Preference is Personal Preference

Ben Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies and a guy I've interviewed a couple of times. He's really smart and writes really well about this tech stuff.

His latest column, "I Chose the iPhone, You Chose an Android Phone — So What?" got me thinking about why we argue/discuss/flame over our tech du jour.

Ben says:
What really stumps me is the desire to criticize others’ choices of personal technology products. It’s as if one person choosing a different product is going to drastically alter the quality of life of another person.

Should we harshly criticize those who like different music than us? Should we criticize those who buy different car brands than us? Should we criticize those who like different foods than us?

I understand that personal technology is just that: personal. Because of that reality, there will be emotions attached to personal preferences.

And there's the rub - emotion. Ben (and most of us) would like people to make rational, logical choices and decisions based on facts and evidence. But as human beings, we see so many things through an emotional prism. We criticize others over their different choices - whether it be the car they drive, the soda they like or the phone they use - because of our need to have our emotions affirmed.

We think, "If I bought this thing and you didn't, then (because I can't be wrong) you are wrong and must be told so." It's even worse when it comes to things we develop an emotional attachment to. We need our emotions and feelings validated and to be "told" we did the right thing.

My favorite example is motorcycles. I don't care what brand of motorcycle you ride. The only thing that matters to me is that you ride well, ride safely and enjoy yourself. To that end, I am happy to help people understand motorcycling more and to help them make the right choice for them of the style (but not brand) of bike they ride.

But there are plenty of people who care vehemently about not only what brand of bike they ride but also what brand of bike I ride. People who openly mocked me when I rode a cruiser that wasn't a Harley-Davidson. People who (less openly) judged me based on the kind of sport touring bike I rode. I often heard, "Well, when you're ready to get a real motorcycle, buy a [insert brand name here]".

Another line in Ben's column that struck me was this one:
In general, we would all be better off if we learned how to disagree well.

Absolutely true. But the problem is the word "learned". Most people are not taught it. We don't learn - from family, friends, school, TV, politicians, the media or society - how to give and take criticism with civil discourse. We are not taught how to discuss issues in a way that doesn't cause emotional reactions. And the anonymity of the internet has simply made it worse to the nth degree.

Don't get me wrong - I love to argue (those of you who know me are saying, "boy - do you ever!") but I rarely argue with those who have a high emotional stake in the issue at hand.

Ben is right - in the big picture, it doesn't really matter what phone, car, ice cream you choose or like. And maybe, if we learn and teach how to accept people's consumer choices, we'll start learning and teaching how to accept people's other choices (personal, religious, sexual) as well.

A brother can dream, can't he?