Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trolling the Selfish Elite

So there's these dudes ran some poll on Facebook and Wired thinks it means that iPad users are educated, sophisticated, selfish elites.

Dude, you can say what you want about my gadgets, but calling me sophisticated is over the line.

Anyway, let's say this about that.  This study is obviously trash science at its worst.  You start with sample bias and poor question design, make some sloppy inferences and then wrap it up with some sweeping generalizations guided more by the story you want to tell than the data.  Like most magazines, Wired fails hard when it comes time to decide between sensationalism and critical review.  Still, it's an interesting thought vector.

Some times one thing will predict another thing.  In my language, I call the measured entity a "proxy" for the predicted entity.  If you give me data on whether a group of folks are fundamentalist Christians, I can make predictions about their party affiliation.  This isn't a "correlation implies causation" kind of thing, it's a "reliable correlation is handy because sometimes a hard-to-measure thing is correlated with an easier-to-measure thing."  Political scientists occasionally call these sorts of shenanigans "Alford Indeces," after this guy.

Still, we love to find some causation.  WHY would educated elites purchase an iPad?  Well, that's a silly question.  iPads are expensive and unessential.  Pretty much the only sorts of folks who purchase that sort of thing are educated elites.  I have no idea from what data they draw their conclusion of selfishness, but that label is leveled with regularity upon businessmen in our age, so it's not so surprising.

No, it's no surprise at all that folks with the means to purchase a new toy will purchase a new toy.  The same trend could be found if we "studied" luxury automobile owners, folks with pilot's licenses or ran a poll down at the local $40/plate restaurant.

The surprise is how important NOT liking the iPad is to the self-image of those geeks who don't have one.  The younger, poorer drivers of tuned EVOs and Civics don't hate on the drivers of M3s and Porsches.  They aspire to join their ranks. 

That's not so in computer-land though.  For these sorts of gadget-geeks, buying an Apple product would be like that feeling you get when your favorite indy band signs with the RIAA.  The "joy of tinkering" as a euphemism for braving bad UI is like the joy of drinking PBR in a hole-in-the-wall.  With a self-image like that, purchasing an Apple product is almost emasculating.

Time changes things though.  Young students pirate songs because they have lots of time and no money.  Middle-aged professionals buy songs from iTunes because they have money and no time.  Sticking it to the RIAA is just a time-consuming drag.

Take one of those "independent geeks" and give him a 90K a year salary at a tech company, a wife and two kids.  Maybe he'll get an EEEPC, set it up to ssh over to his server that he built from parts purchased on NewEgg running a bleeding-edge build of MythTV and an open-source newsreader that he on-again-off-again contributes to.

Or... he'll get the iPad and use it to read shitty sites like TechCrunch in hopes of learning from their hype what the competition is doing.  He'll download casual games because he doesn't have the time to sit down and get involved in anything that can't be measured in 15 minute increments.  He'll give it to the kids to amuse themselves so that he can talk with his wife. 

Where did all the independent geeks go?  They all became iPad driving businessmen.

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