The needs of the haters

Last week at NAB there was big news about Flash being increasingly adopted at the hardware level by television manufacturers (see press release, Techmeme).

There wasn’t much new information beyond what most of us knew back in January, but it got a lot of fresh exposure in the mainstream techblogs. This produced a noticeable trend-change in comments at venues like CNET and Ars Technica.

Let me synopsize, rephrase some of them here, to give a flavor: “Oh great, now we’ll see all those annoying Flash banner ads over television shows just like we get to see on so many websites?”… “Well, the VIDEO tag in HTML 5 is on the way, and then there will be no difficulties with plugins as an excuse for using Adobe’s semi-proprietary crap-ware”… “GREAT! Now in addition to our PC’s, Adobe can crash our televisions”… “I can understand why some companies battle to keep Adobe off their devices – it is a trojan horse of functionality that can dominate/trump the device OS”… “Oh, great! Now they’ll be tracking our viewing habits with Flash cookies and sending targeted ads to our TVs”… “If I owned a T.V. I would not want to have Flash’s annoying ads on it”… “I’d be ok with 100% cpu if they could guarantee that it wouldn’t crash the TV like it does my browsers”… “Why not make the UI AJAX rather than flash? It’ll take 10% of the cpu”… “Why would any electronics manufacturer want to inflict Flash on their (soon-to-be-former) customers?”… “Oh good. I’ve always wanted my TV to drop frames and be bad at scaling video”… “How did Internet video streaming go so wrong?”… “I despise Flash. My first thought reading this was that its an attempt to control what we watch and how we watch it”… “Open standards is about letting technology progress for the benefit of the whole society, at minimal cost, instead of being hijacked and bottlenecked by a few capitalists so they can collect rent-seeking profits”… “I wonder what the environmental impact/energy cost of flash has been”… … “Can we please get SVG, SMIL, JavaScript, HTML5 VIDEO, etc. working together so that we can kill stupid crap like Flash already?”

There was similar reflexive pushback in comments to a blogpost of mine last week. This is what really started me wondering about the phenomenon.

The particulars of the attacks aren’t new… what struck me in the pseudonymous comments was the sudden strength in volume and emotional tone. In these forums there was little discussion of the news and its implications, but a significant amount of reflexive pushback against Flash itself.

The nature of the complaints shows no nexus — the most common point seemed to be “I don’t like ads”, which was quite peripheral to the discussion. People seemed to be grabbing whatever argument was handy, tossing it at the wall, seeing if it would stick.

The core driver seemed to be diverse sentiment against Flash’s increasing usefulness, rather than any particular addressable issue. My takeaway is that they’re seeking rationalizations for a pre-existing prejudice, and are increasingly concerned that those prejudices are becoming irrelevant in the world at large.

It is a stressful time for many “Flash haters”. The VIDEO tag has sparked interest, yet no one is realistically addressing the obvious questions about cross-browser deployment. Meanwhile Flash is increasingly acknowledged as the way to unite diverse browser brands, and is making significant progress on cross-device deployment across laptops, mobile, television, and embedded displays. Reality is crashing in on the rhetoric. Past challenges were not addressed, while future challenges are increasing. When reasonable questions cannot be answered, or even safely acknowledged, then ridicule is one of the few tactics left.

What to do? Well, some of the later comments at Ars Technica were more reality-based, although some of them verged into vulgar abuse. We can try reason; we can try fighting fire with fire.

But when the complaints are based less on reason than on prejudice, reasonable replies usually don’t take root, instead just spurring another collection of rationalizations. And calling the namecallers names — responding to intolerance with intolerance — is usually not a very enjoyable way to live.

My suggestion? For each of us individually to investigate the facts, evaluate the trends, and (most likely) see the haters as merely acting like frustrated deadenders. Emotional, but without hope. History and future-history both seem to be against them. They lash out.

If such commenters present a legit new point we still need to recognize it and respond to it… if there’s a newbie who heard “Flash isn’t searchable and isn’t accessible” we can still try in good faith to help them out… but I think we need to accept that there’s a minority who will complain in dysfunctional ways no matter what.

A guiding light, a silver lining: Anyone who fights for a technology position, cares about technology. They may currently have incorrect info or not clearly disclose their personal proprietary concerns, but they care. That’s something we have in common.

The long goal is in increasing the range of personal expression for all humans — to remove the barriers to people communicating their own ideas. Web-publishing is a part of that, and the greater engagement provided by rich-media and interactivity is a part of that goal too. If someone else is on that path, they are a potential ally — even if they’re currently throwing rocks from behind an online moniker.

Can I follow my own advice? Probably not, I still get frustrated with the tactics of prejudice! But there’s always the possibility of hope, potential futures in which they open up… that’s one thing I try to keep remembering when reading such people.

Flash Haters seem to be in a rather desperate position right now. They might try to hurt you, but if you can afford them some compassion and understanding (while not letting them eat your time ;-) , then that might be the best response in the long term, thanks.