This is the Modem World: Curiosity Killed the Fanboy

Joshua Fruhlinger
J. Fruhlinger|08.08.12

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This is the Modem World: Curiosity Killed the Fanboy

Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

Usain Bolt is fast. Really fast. So fast, in fact, that we all revel in his quirky personality and dig the fact that he comes from Jamaica. We're all Bolt fanboys.

The Olympics, born as a celebration of the human body and spirit, bring the world together every two years in a peaceful competition and allow us to transform nationalism into a spirited, peaceful chant for our own countries. Usain Bolt displayed the Olympic spirit during a post-race interview when he stopped the affair to wait for the American national anthem to finish as another athlete received her gold medal. Respect.

Our nationalistic Olympic fanboyism is transparent: we live in a certain place and root for our guys and girls across the world. In pro sports, the model is similar: support your hometown team lest you be labeled a turncoat. Sure, we argue with others about why our team is better, but at the end of it all, this is normally a peaceful exchange and personal attacks are left out unless you're a jerk who takes it all too seriously.

Then there's our gadget fanboyism, where nerds take sides on symbolic home teams, if you will. You're either an Apple fanboy or you're not. You play Xbox or PlayStation. Where does this come from? Do humans simply need to root for something, to engage in warfare? Is it because we spend a lot of money and need to validate our investments? I'm not about to answer that here -- that'll be tackled in a future column.

Curiosity is our Usain Bolt: technically superior, charming and a bit cheeky.

But let's say an amazing device -- the Usain Bolt of devices -- were to hit the market. Would we see past the branding and celebrate our ability as humans to make amazing things?

Yes. In fact, we're doing that right now. When NASA's Curiosity rover landed on the surface of Mars earlier this week, we joined together to celebrate the six-wheeled science lab. We read about Scott Maxwell, one of the rover's 12 drivers, and wanted to hang out with him. We flooded, hungry for Curiosity's first photos. For two years we'll be fans of the same device, no arguments. And that's pretty cool.

But are there cranky little people who think the rover's camera is weak and has poor battery life, and "could have done it better" in their basements? Probably, but they haven't come out of the woods just yet. I just Googled "Curiosity rover sucks" and only found an old article that predicted the landing may not go well and that we'd be wasting $2.5 billion on a failed experiment. That didn't happen, of course, and Curiosity is safe.

Because Curiosity rules. We all believe this.

So what's missing from the fanboy equation when it comes to Curiosity? None of us can personally buy Curiosity, so that's out. There are no current-generation rivals on Mars, so there can be none of that. Instead, we all get to learn more about Mars, space and dream big.

Curiosity is our Usain Bolt: technically superior, charming and a bit cheeky (follow Curiosity on Twitter and you'll see).

Maybe, back in the day, American and Soviet kids pitted Apollo against Soyuz and, if there was an internet available, they would have waged the most epic fanboy war of all time. And maybe today there are some Chinese rocket scientists telling their friends that their rover will be faster and lighter.

If so, bring it on. Space program competition is good for us all. If China, Russia or anyone else for that matter launched a Mars rover and we were watching robot wars millions of miles away, we'd be in space heaven. We'd all win. For now, though, let's just enjoy this moment of space-gadget unity, shall we?

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.

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