Thoughts on Joel Johnson’s Exercise in Trolling

i like where this thread is going

As conflicted as I am to even add any more attention to Joel Johnson’s “stop buying crap” childish tirade over at Gizmodo, I do have a few thoughts on it that I figure I’d share. Over at my own home away from home, Gearlog, the venerable Lance Ulanoff had a few choice words for Johnson:

Joel Johnson has outed the whole tech blogging industry and especially his former parent and current freelance employer Gizmodo for shoveling “crap” down the throats of a tech-obsessed audience. Man, this guy has stones. What a hero. He told everyone how we’re all out there whoring for CE and techs companies, delivering pabulum to an audience that doesn’t know s _ _ t from Shinola.

What an idiot. I guess Johnson forgot who reads these blogs. They’re not written for or by your average Joes. These are designed by and for tech and consumer electronics enthusiast who live to know about the latest new thing. Who consider it a badge of honor to try things out first, to suffer through bad design and ill-thought out products. All so they can tell friends family co workers, and especially the companies that make these products how crummy n–or great– they really are.

What this really is an exercise in self loathing. Johnson hates what he’s done and is now taking it out on Gizmodo, its contributors and everyone who reads it. Johnson says he “gave” up two years of his life writing for Gizmodo. Poor Joel. The site made his name and now he’s mad at the way it did it.

Lance is on point, word for word. Johnson has all of the grace of a gangsta rapper, decrying his fans for paying his bills and shouting at them about how little he cares for them, but then lapping up those royalty checks. Lance goes on:

Joel thinks we should “Only buy new stuff from companies that have proven themselves good servants of their customers in the past.” Good servants? Since when is any business a good servant? I think these companies want to build good products, and they’re not looking to mislead, but they are businesses, Joel. They exist to make a profit. Being “servants” is not part of the business plan.

Truth is, not only is Johnson’s argument full of crap, he may be, too. The whole time I was reading this screed, I had the creeping suspicion that it was all a big show. Johnson didn’t even believe what he was writing. He just wanted to make a big, splashy return and ensure people read his next column.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. But I tried. My comments to his post I thought were worthy enough to reblog:

I have to admit that this comment from his post seems to hit the nail right on the head:

“Golly, you’re sure an elitist little turd for someone that did this for what, 75 years before the new crew? Gorsh. Maybe your next post should be about where to buy that sweet pedestal. I hope it comes in glossy electricities because I’m an idiot!”

I know he was just ranting, and I know he got a little too personal, but to be honest, he should have saved it for his personal blog than for public consumption. He laid himself out like some Eminem-style whiner who shouts “I hate my public and I don’t care if you listen to what I have to say!” and then laps up the fruits of that same public’s attention with an underhanded “read my column” in the same way pop stars lambaste you for listening and then plead you to buy their album. I’m tired of it. You can have a change of heart, you can have your personal opinion, but masquerading like you know it all about any industry just because you’ve been knee deep in it just exposes how long it took you to sink knee deep in your own little circle of muck, not your breadth of knowledge.

He, and anyone who’s like minded (myself included to a large part) would do well to allow people’s imaginations and passions to be inspired and flared by technology, technological progress, and the continual march and advance of both consumer and industrial technologies by reporting on them…and at the same time explaining; as most credible and ethical journalists do; that the next best thing might be coming along in just a little while, so don’t buy now, or don’t buy that new shiny, it’s not as new or shiny as the box says it is, and so on.

I don’t see a problem here, and I certainly don’t think the tech journalism or blogging community is dangling the geek carrot in front of anyone’s nose. If anything, they’re the responsible barrier between an uneducated and eager consumer with a few free bucks on their credit card and the eager, hungry waiting arms of Best Buys, CompUSAs, Frys, and their plethora of at-cost Samsung phones, LG televisions, HP “the computer is personal again” laptops, and everyone else who wants a piece of our credit card statements.

But that wasn’t the end of the discussion. Kyle Monson, also writing at Gearlog, brought up the very valid point: Isn’t Johnson right? Shouldn’t we not buy so much overpriced electric crap that inevitably falls apart right after its warranty expires, or pay to suffer through horrible technical support and unresponsive customer service? Shouldn’t we be wary of companies who are more interested in filling our homes with obsolete electronic crap than providing quality products and services? Absolutely, but that was peripheral to Johnson’s point. A jewel in the muck of his post, his noble point about being careful about what you buy and why you buy it, Johnson didn’t set out to learn us all a good lesson about the dangers of falling for the marketing hype, he set out to shoot for the moon in the trolling world. I went on to say:

While Joel’s core point is absolutely valid, and I don’t hear anyone discrediting it, his incredibly high-horsed “I know better than you because I made this industry” attitude is misplaced. I don’t think anyone would disagree that early adopters pay the price for being early adopters, but I don’t honestly think that any reasonable person runs straight out and buys something they don’t want or need otherwise just because it’s new and available in different colors. I think the whole reason technology publications exist is to educate people in a helpful manner about what’s on the horizon, what it can do for you, how it’s different from what’s available now, and whether or not it’s worthwhile.

I think it’s difficult for some people who have been schmoozing and shilling as long as Joel has to remember that the vast majority of people turn to technology publications and blogs for information, advice, and to be on the bleeding edge of technology…in their heads. No one’s heading to Gizmodo to read about a hot new cellphone only available in Japan and then go to their sources to order one even though it won’t work in the States-and if they do, they could care less about Joel’s perspective, or their disposable income.

If Joel’s willing to come down off of his high horse and acknowledge that people buy things they want, and if they don’t work or if they have problems it’s not because he had anything to do with it, then maybe someone will pay more attention to his point than his attitude. The only person guilty of ceaselessly “buying crap” are the folks that Joel runs with. I simply think your average household doesn’t buy “crap” the way that Joel thinks they do. We need to be careful about separating tech enthusiasts, who, like anyone with a hobby, spend more money on what they’re enthusiastic about, from mainstream customers, who buy things when they want or need them, not because they’re brand new.

Any dissenters?

The only thing that’s sadly true about the whole ordeal is how bad things have gotten at Gizmodo – between posts like this and their already “every article is submitted to the Digg front page” hyperbolic bent, they’re wearing the journalistic carpet thin and turning into the Weekly World News of the technology blog circuit; their only saving grace being that they’re updated incredibly often. Then again, I probably shouldn’t hold them up to the Weekly World News standard they might be aspiring to – I think that ValleyWag might hold that title.

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