Fanatics, Fan Boys and True Believers: Tech's Most Rabid Cults

Spend enough time around technology and it starts to get under your skin. It could be a gizmo that changed your life, an ancient computer you loved, or a programming language that took months to master before it finally clicked. And then, nothing was ever the same again.

It became a part of you. You began to identify with it, even develop a belief system around it. You may have attended regular meetings of others similarly afflicted, and openly despised members of other groups. Before you were even aware of it, you'd joined a cult.

[ Speaking of cults, take InfoWorld's IQ tests to see if you've got what it takes to hold your own among Apple maniacs, Windows admin gurus, Linux admin cognoscenti, or the order of programmers. ]

"People develop protective and tribal feelings about the technology they use," says Michael Jolkovski, a clinical psychologist. "And the metaphor of religious wars or cults is pretty accurate -- just as a person's religion becomes the main framework for apprehending reality, so does the OS of choice."

(Jolkovski adds that he belongs to the cult of Apple and is patiently awaiting orders from the mothership on what new gadgets to buy.)

Of course, the word "cult" tends to have negative connotations -- mind control, Kool-Aid, comets -- so if it makes you feel better, call it a club. Either way, you may well belong to one or more of the many tech cults/clubs out in the wild -- perhaps even some of the following seven.

[ Did we leave out your cult of choice? Nominate your favorites in the comments section below or log onto the Adventures in IT discussion forum on IT cults. ]

Tech cult No. 1: The Way of the Palm

Established: 1996

Gathering of the tribes: The Palm Forums

Major deities: Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky

Sacred relics: Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000

Mantra: The Pre will set us free

When Jonathon Ezor walked into a J&R Music store in the fall of 1996 and encountered his first Pilot 1000, it wasn't exactly a religious experience, but it was life-altering. He immediately began speaking in tongues -- or, more accurately, writing in flawless Graffiti, the Pilot's handwriting recognition alphabet.

"I picked up the stylus, was able to correctly write my name on the first try, and was hooked," says Ezor, an assistant professor of law and technology at Touro Law Center and an associate writer at the PalmAddict blog. "I became an evangelist shortly after that."

[ Good news for the Palm priesthood: Palm has ordained the Pre will run "classic" Palm apps. ]

Ezor says he's owned seven Palm PDAs in his life (he currently uses a TX) and estimates he's personally converted at least 200 people to the Way of Palm. He also admits that, on the rare occasions he uses pen and paper, he sometimes finds himself writing in Graffiti.

"Palm has just always gotten how people need to work," says Ezor. "They were open from the outset with their software. They had hot-syncing. Back then if you lost your Filofax, you lost your life. I can find every note I've ever taken back to 1996. I challenge anyone who uses legal pads to do that."

You can identify true devotees because they're the ones standing around beaming contact info and free apps to each other through their Palms' IR ports, says Ezor. Another bizarre ritualistic practice: Using their Palms as TV remotes.

But it's been a difficult few years in the desert for the Palmists. After a promising start, the company was acquired, reacquired, and spun off. The original Palm prophets, Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, left to form Handspring, then later rejoined the Palm fold. The company opened up its hardware to heretical operating systems (Windows Mobile), causing dismay among the faithful, who watched helplessly as the BlackBerry and the iPhone passed them by. Now, with the coming of the Pre smartphone and WebOS, Palm's resurrection may finally be at hand.

Of course, there are the inevitable factions and feuds. Ezor believes Palm's rivalry with Microsoft in 1990s was overblown, but he sees Pre acolytes online eyeing St. Steven's Church of the Almighty iPhone with increasing vitriol.

"I think the true believers are the ones who had the Pilot 1000 or 5000, who jumped on the Palm before it went mainstream," he says. "And the orthodox sect belongs to people who prefer Graffiti 1 over Graffiti 2."

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