“Better” is Relative

Since the dawn of time, we have argued over which is best. There is no doubt that our ancestors argued over which animal skin was better for keeping you warm or over whether it was better to cook your beef or leave it raw. Now we argue over which fast food outlet is better or which unnamed cola brand is the best. We even argue over which technology companies produce the best phones and phone operating system. The truth is, and always will be, better is relative. We, like our ancestors before us, live in a world where we are free to make our own choices. This means that what is better for me may not be better for you. This is something that many of us, as geeks, get asked on a daily basis by our friends, families, and co-workers.

However, how many of you have given someone full and complete information or listened to what features they required before giving them an informed answer? Most, if not all of you, will have simply told this person to buy something from your favourite brand or company. This is both irresponsible and borderline moronic, in my opinion. If you haven’t listened to what someone wants or needs — be they dietary requirements, technology requirements, or hardware requirements — how can you possibly give them what they need? Here’s a scenario for you. One of your co-workers likes pizza but can’t take gluten because they are allergic to it and you tell them to buy pizzas from this pizza brand because they are the best. Your co-worker now goes out and buys one of these pizzas, takes a bite, and is rushed to hospital because it wasn’t a gluten-free pizza. Do you think that they will trust your opinion any more? Let me put it this way: I wouldn’t.

It is my opinion (and I know I’m not the only person who thinks this way) that if you are going to give advice to people, as a geek, then you should take a modicum of responsibility for your answers. Even if that means telling someone to go for an Android-powered device over your beloved iPhone or vice versa. In fact, here is a true story. My friend wanted a new phone that wasn’t fancy and was easy to use. We spent around a month looking for the phone that would fit. Most of the phones were either too expensive for what they were capable of or were too expensive with a lot of features that wouldn’t be used. My friend then asked the inevitable question: “Is the iPhone better than one that runs Android?” I said that I certainly thought so, but it’s not me who has to live with the decision. I gave my friend my iPhone to have a play with and explained about the App Store and other features of both Android and iOS. The next day we met up and started looking around one of the retail stores. My friend liked the look of the Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10, so we took the time to weigh up the pros and cons of both the iPhone and the Xperia. My friend ended up buying the Xperia and loving the phone until it started playing up and neither Sony nor the retail store took any interest in the problem. My friend now has an iPhone 4s because of the bad experience that was had with Android and Sony-Ericsson.

I am more than well aware that this isn’t always the case. However, you may find that if you let these people make an informed decision and it backfires, they will more than likely come back to you because you helped them. You didn’t just say “This is the best because I own it and I love it so you’re going to love it.” We all have our biases, but it is the ability to work past these biases that makes you someone who I’d certainly want to talk to. If you can tell someone to buy an iPhone because of their needs and expectations versus telling them to buy an Android phone because, in your opinion, Android is the superior operating system, then you will be taking responsibility for your answer and not just forcing someone to buy into something that may or may not be of any relevance to them. It is just like my pizza scenario above — albeit without the possibility of death.

In conclusion, it is better for the whole community if we, as the geeks of the world, can give responsible answers to the “which is better” question. Better and best have always been relative to the person who is asking the question. You need to ask questions to give the answer that is, indeed, better or best for the person, in question. It is not what the person can do for you, but what you can do for the person. And, yes, I am paraphrasing John F. Kennedy. If you can ask the right questions to get the right answers that will assess someone’s needs before a recommendation is made, then that person will trust your judgment. This person may even recommend you to their friends, family, and co-workers. This is because you have listened to them, asked questions, and given them information to make a truly informed decision.

It’s not just about being responsible. It’s also the fact that, as a geek, you are thought of as someone who has an aptitude for technology. You are the “go to guy” for these kinds of questions. These other “mere mortals” don’t understand the complex workings of a motherboard, iPhone, or Android device. They don’t understand about the software and the hardware working together to make a great device. They don’t even know how to turn the device on half the time. All these users understand is that it works. You have the power to make their lives easier. You have the power to help them understand technology whether it be Windows or Linux, Steam or Diesel, or even Turboprop or Jet. Why abuse that power?

Article Written by

John “Scotsman” McKinlay is a 25-year-old autistic living in Glasgow, Scotland. He has been an online presence since 1998, but has only recently found that his voice and writing skills could bring him into the world of blogging and podcasting -- with a bit of YouTube on the side. He joined the ranks of LockerGnome back in March of 2012 and has been warmly received both by the LockerGnome staff and by you lovely ladies and gentlemen of the LockerGnome audience.

  • http://twitter.com/StacyPharis Stacy Pharis

    It’s human nature for sure! What we like is always better.

  • Pingback: New Video! – Why You Should Ignore Most Advice « Geeky Bits

  • RaterKey

    You know what I HATE those type of questions, and like you I often recommend things that aren’t the first choice for me. 

    I use Android for a number of reasons, largely better integration to Google’s services as well as nicer hardware selection (I don’t like smaller phones like the iPhone). But I don’t often recommend Android to “non-geeks”, my wife for instance has an iPhone. Why? Simply because I think iPhone is largely more headache free for the average user. 

    I’m also known as the go to car guy amongst my friends, and that is even worse! When people ask me “what car should I get?”. How do I know? Buying a car is one of the most damn personal things anyone could do! And people get even more possessive and defensive about their car choices than tech choices.

  • REW_in_DC

    IOW, “utility is context-sensitive”, i.e., you really won’t herd cats with horses, despite the EDS commercial.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_MaJDK3VNE  ;)