Set Preferences

Published 16 years, 6 months past

In his inaugural “Dork Talk” column for The Guardian, Stephen Fry talked about something I’ve been mulling over for the last little while:

Very little is as mutually exclusive as we seem to find it convenient to imagine. In our culture we are becoming more and more fixated with an “it’s one thing or the other” mentality. You like Thai food? But what’s wrong with Italian? Woah, there… calm down. I like both. Yes. It can be done.

It’s always tempting to make jokes about how computer folks are binary thinkers (har de har har), but the sad joke is that most people think that way, computers notwithstanding.  I don’t think we can blame the digital age for “you’re either with me or against me” thought patterns.  And those who don’t generally think that way, whether naturally or with effort, get treated with some degree of suspicion.

This is something I run into professionally, not incredibly often but still enough to notice, and it’s frustrating when I do.  The only slightly exaggerated version is:

“Hey, do you use Dreamweaver?”


“Why?  What do you have against Dreamweaver?”

If that seems outré, replace “use Dreamweaver” with something else, like “run Linux” or “watch Fox News” or “drive a Chevrolet”.

I wish I could write in 500-foot flaming letters across the skies of every country of the world in localized translations: An expression of preference does not equate criticism of differing preferences.  It’s really that simple.  My lack of using or doing or watching or liking X does not mean I think people who use or do or watch or like X are subhuman air-wasters, let alone that I claim such a position.

If more people really understood that statement and used it as a principle of daily interaction, I think we’d all be a lot less tense.

Comments (30)

  1. Well said.


  2. Well said…

    So do you use a Mac or a PC? ;)

  3. very well said.

    Now, who can we blame for this…. EVERYTHING is blamed on someone or something…hmmm.. global warming, TV…maybe polar bears? lol. jeez…

  4. This is one of those posts where I have to just add an ‘Amen’ to the comments. As a programmer these wars are inevitably started with ‘Rails is better than PHP, .Net is better than Java, Java is better than…’ and the list goes on, and the argument never ends.

    I don’t understand what people really want to accomplish with these types of arguments.

    The same is true with your examples, obviously, about DW and the like. Yes, I have my reasonings for using one over the other – but it doesn’t necessarily mean the other end is wrong (something I have learned over the past few months, honestly).

    So, here is another ‘Amen’.

  5. So are you saying that we binary thinkers are subhuman air-wasters? ;-)

  6. Very well stated. I think there is some sort of inherent desire, particularly amongst designers or the technically inclined to draw a line in the sand with respect their tool / platform of choice.

    It seems that designers and developers seem to build their identity on the products or tools that they use. “I’m a Linux guy,” “I’m a Mac guy,” “I’m an IE guy” (what?!). Everyone picks their tool and finds it necessary to decry everyone else’s in an effort to build and defend their own identity which they have chosen to link to some passing technological fad.

    I say build your identity on something far more important and substantial than a software suite or architecture.

  7. Very well said Eric, and expanded upon Nate.

    I have 4-5 different FTP/editors on my computer, one of which is even a Microsoft program (Gasp!). Depending on the project, one editor just may be more handy at the time. Not to mention the need to be able to walk a client through making an update once in a while.

  8. This reminds me of the excellent cartoon strip Two-tone perception disease from Ozy and Millie.

  9. More generally, what you’re talking about is the informal fallacy called false dilemma. It’s definitely a tremendous problem nowadays, especially in (U.S.) politics.

  10. Thanks for writing this Eric. I only with more people had your kind of common sense.

    Oh, and since you have something against Dreamweaver (jk), what do you use? :-P

  11. Testify my brother from another mother!!!

  12. For me, nothing to argue about.

    Every thing you use is ok as long as you know how you use it. “it”s one thing or the other” mentality is like an advertisement-you are helping the product and you never help each other if you argue… but if you quoted it as a “TIP” then it might help a lot.

  13. Very true. It’s also reflected in the way that a lot of people just ask “What’s the best (os/browser/computer/graphics card/soccer league/hammer and nail combination)?” and the answer often depends on a lot of factors, starting by what you want to do and any particulars about how you’d like to get it done.
    If you go into the 33 flavors ice cream place you don’t have to stick with the one you choose in your first visit.

  14. Fry’s entire column is wonderful; thanks for pointing it out. (I didn’t previously know he maintained a blog, or was such a tech dork.)

    I especially note his statement later on in the column:

    As if style and substance are at war! As if a device can function if it has no style. As if a device can be called stylish that does not function superbly. […] So, yes, beauty matters. Boy, does it matter. It is not surface, it is not an extra, it is the thing itself.

    This reminds me of something Zeldman wrote years ago (and of course I can’t seem to dig up the link), to the effect that from a user perspective, presentation and content in fact can’t be separated. The way we present content is an essential component of the way the content is consumed. Yes, we can and should work to keep the layers as discrete as possible behind the curtain, but they still affect one another as surely as the moon affects the tides.

  15. …and while I still haven’t found the place where Zeldman said it (if indeed he did), the sentiment was also very nicely stated in 2003 by this character.

  16. But… but getting along, being rational and reasonable makes terrible press! one is much more likely to get media attention when one espouses outrageous and inflammatory vitriol! And that’s what it’s all about; getting my fifteen minutes.

    Good post, Mr Meyer.

  17. “An expression of preference does not equate criticism of differing preferences.”

    amen – somewhere along the line the definition of tolerance got hijacked and the reverse now, unfortunately, seems to be the prevailing wisdom – it’s too bad…

  18. What do you have against X?

  19. Obviously, I am not the only one to encounter that phrase.

    My response normally is, “I hand code, because it is cleaner and more precise for my need; but I hear DW is pretty good, I used to use it.”

    I still hear it today in app programming.

  20. Amen, amen, amen

  21. I usually get a different spin on that, such as “You use Dreamweaver? Euurrghh.. I do all my coding by hand.” without realising that many people use Dreamweaver purely in code view (I still think its one of the best – albeit loated – code editors for Windows).

    But I digress. I think the binary way of thinking comes from the schoolyard days of picking on someone who’s different in an attempt to make yourself feel better, ultimately leading to the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory.

  22. Bravo. Absolutely. Hear, hear.

  23. Preach it, brother!!!

  24. I use a Mac, personally. But, wait… it has Parallels… and Windows… and Ubuntu… I use Dreamweaver at work (in Windows) in text mode only… and BBEdit at home on the Mac… When can I make up my mind??

  25. Why do you hate America?

  26. At the risk of not agreeing with everyone else, don’t you think there is something to be said for making a choice? I’m not saying it’s completely mutually exclusive, but if you do use a certain product or products you are not using others which really *is a* vote against them.

    I own two vehicles, a Honda and a Mazda. That doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike Fords, but obviously I didn’t like them enough to buy one. Which to Ford *is* the important thing.

    Can’t the same be said for software? If I use Dreamweaver or any other application or number of applications (Dreamweaver at home, Visual Studio at work, etc) does this not mean that my choice *has* excluded Hot Dog or Contribute or Homesite? I may have nothing against them, but I’m not saying a whole lot *for* them either by not choosing to use them.

    Also as with any group when someone as esteemed as Eric Meyer chooses or not chooses a piece of software, that does send a message. That may not be your intention, but none-the-less it’s one that is taken by people.

    Perception is reality, right?

    How many people bought Air Jordan’s because of Michael Jordan? It wasn’t that he was saying that other shoes sucked, but that he was behind or used Nike shoes. Like it or not I think if Eric came out and said I code in Pico editor on Unix there would be a lot of people all of a sudden who started using Pico editor on Unix and *not* another piece of software.

    Just my 2 cents.

  27. Justin, for me, between voting for and voting against is not voting, which I see as an entirely separate state and not one that can be equated with voting against. Choices, in other words, are not binary, at least not to me. Thus I would say that my ‘vote’ for something really isn’t a vote against others.

    So in my world, buying a Saturn or a Macintosh is a personal choice in favor of those products, but does not therefore represent a rejection of all other cars or computing platforms. Preferring a Mac doesn’t mean I’m implicitly claiming other OSes are horrible and bad. I’m merely implicitly claiming that a Mac is the best choice for me.

  28. Err … Well said !
    Do you use Vim or Emacs, by the way ;) ?

  29. But what do you have against Dreamweaver ;-)

  30. The Argument Culture by social linguist Deborah Tannen is an excellent book on how culture is becoming binary.

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