Very nasty stuff, to be sure.
But the exact same human behavior is extensively quite visibly on the internet every day — albeit without guns and terrorism involved.
Political cults. Religious cults. Climate change cults. And so on and so on.
Even in our cozy IT world, cults are among us.
And it’s not a good thing — for us as individuals, and us as an industry.
I often don’t agree (that’s to be expected!), but I fully value their contribution to the discussion, and I fully welcome any opportunity to intelligently debate what's at hand.
But — very often — a line is crossed. “You don’t believe”. “You’re not one of us”. “You just don’t get it”. Sometimes, it devolves into personal attacks, questioning motivations, and devaluing individuals just because they don’t agree with you.
This is cultism. It is not a pretty thing. It discourages intelligent stakeholders from participating. It stifles discussion. It holds our industry — and our customers — back.
I am not a trained psychologist. If I were, I could probably offer a scholarly perspective as to why human beings tend to behave like this — even when there are negative outcomes.
One thing is insecurity. If you are insecure of your place in life, your position in the industry, your future prospects, etc. — you are a candidate for IT cultism. You can fill this void and gain confidence from being joined with other like-minded people, and collectively attacking non-believers.
Startups are historical breeding grounds for IT cultism. There needs to be a dramatic, motivating storyline — changing the world, defeating the evil incumbents, creating a strong internal culture, etc. Standard playbook stuff.
Groups of people who are heavily invested in a particular technology from a career perspective can be targets for spontaneous cultism — almost defending their prior choices, and refusing to acknowledge the inevitable and rapid shifts in technology.
They feel threatened, they bind together, and start attacking the interlopers -- a cult is formed.
Why This Is Bad For IT Users — And The Industry
As a young pup, one of the reasons I liked the IT industry is that it was vibrant and dynamic. Lots of smart people, lots of innovation and lots of healthy discussion and debate. Fun, stimulating and ultimately value-creating.
In my travels, I meet all sorts of really bright people with really bright ideas, and I ask them “why don’t you speak up more publicly?” You can guess what I hear in response. They don’t want to subject themselves to the inevitable abuse — from IT cultists.
Some of us — myself included — have developed incredibly thick skins. We think it’s our duty to speak up regardless of the abuse hurled at us. But not everyone is willing to make that choice.
And that’s unfortunate.
What Can We Do?
I care about this industry, and I care about the customers that use technology to build a better world. I think we deserve an environment where we can politely discuss and debate everything around us — and not fear the inevitable cultish tirade.
So I’d ask you to consider two propositions.
First, when you see cultism, be prepared to call it out. If you see a group of people banding together, espousing an isolated point-of-view, and jumping all over anyone who disagrees with them, name them and shame them. You'll be doing a public service for the community
Second, if you’ve got strong opinions and good arguments, share them. Be prepared for occasional bouts of cultism and online bullying. The industry needs to hear your voice. No matter what anyone else has to say.
It’s our chosen profession — our community — our career choice.
Let’s make this a better place, shall we?
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