And while we’re on the subject of which is better, iPhones are far superior to Android devices, the iPad is objectively the best tablet available, and digital imaging is far superior to analog film in every way imaginable.
Now, if I could just stop you there and grab your attention before you head to the comments section to tell me how wrong I am, how bad my photography is, and what a terrible person I am. I’d like you to just consider the emotional response that can come from a simple statement about camera brands. You may be reading this to see what carefully weighed up argument I make in favor of the Canon brand, you may be reading this because you agree with the statement, or you may be seething with rage that a stranger on the internet has written an article with a title you fundamentally disagree with.
I’ve recently become keenly aware of how tribal humans can become over something as simple as preferred brands and how easily we put ourselves into in-groups over something as arbitrary as which devices we like to use to take photographs. We’ve all seen the arguments on tech forums or social media whenever someone innocently asks which new laptop to purchase, and as is often the way on social media, it can descend into an attack on a person’s character, simply because they prefer Apple or Intel processors in their laptop. It’s really quite silly, but it’s hard-wired into us as humans to identify with those similar to us. We find comfort and safety in the familiar.
Humans evolved in the context of intense intergroup competition, and groups comprised of loyal members more often succeeded than those that were not. Therefore, selective pressures have consistently sculpted human minds to be “tribal,” and group loyalty and concomitant cognitive biases likely exist in all groups
-Clark, Cory J. and Liu, Brittany S. and Winegard, Bo M. and Ditto, Peter H. (2019) ‘Tribalism is human nature.’
On some level, we may feel that when someone chooses to use a different device to us, if they are “right” that their device is “best”, then we must be “wrong” and our device isn’t the “best.” Therefore, it can feel like a personal attack when another person simply advocates for something you chose not to purchase. In reality, we know that not every decision is this binary. We all make decisions on which kit to use based on our own needs, and our own needs are often incomparable to a stranger on the internet on a different continent.
Taking a step back and looking at how humans group themselves can be very interesting. When I was a teenager, going to a new place, I’d find myself wanting to stand and talk with people who dressed in a similar way to me. We look for the familiar for comfort. In fact, my best friend, the best man at my wedding, became my friend because we were both a bit nerdy, lived close to each other, and sat together in class. I would now throw myself in front of a bus for that man because we both liked indie films and Nintendo in 1994.
In sociology and social psychology, an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify. People may, for example, identify with their peer group, family, community, sports team, political party, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or nation. It has been found that the psychological membership of social groups and categories is associated with a wide variety of phenomena. The terminology was made popular by Henri Tajfel and colleagues beginning in the 1970s during his work in formulating social identity theory.
We may wonder why in-group positive bias still takes place, even in arbitrarily assigned groups where group members have nothing in common other than the group to which they were assigned: which laptop we prefer, or our fashion sense. Research points to unconscious decision-making processes that takes place at the neurological level, where in-group and out-group bias occurs very early in perception. We are immediately drawn to the familiar.
There have been numerous studies about the innate bias in the human brain to divide the world into “us and them” categories, where the exact membership of the in-group and out-group are completely arbitrary, and the intensity of division runs along a spectrum from mild to complete dehumanization of the “othered” group. There are numerous historic examples of this phenomenon, and the use of the modern mass media and propaganda to create groupings are well documented. Enough on that, I don’t want this to become a political article.
One of the best examples of in-grouping that I’ve witnessed firsthand was when I was an extra on a zombie movie in the early 2000s. It was a major production with hundreds of extras on set. We’d all been through wardrobe, then makeup, and were now gathering in the food marquee to eat before shooting started. Without any prompting, all the people dressed as zombies sat together, all the soldiers sat together, and all the civilians sat together. It was like being in high school again.
The internet revolution appears to have given rise to ever more subgroups and highly niche in-groups. As a keen motorcyclist, I have always identified as a “biker” (although I don’t dress like a traditional biker). In 2016, I joined a national riders club. Membership of this club isn’t just based on riding a motorcycle, but on specific models of a specific brand of motorcycle, excluding owners of other makes and models. Many of the members are fiercely protective of their choice of motorcycle and will aggressively advocate the brand to anyone who asks.
The internet has allowed more people access to other people who like the same stuff as them. It allows people to feel that they belong and have an identity. It also gives more potential to exclude others from highly niche subgroups.
In summary, when we’re perusing photography forums or photography groups on social media, we should all try to remember that the in-group that we identify with is other photographers, and being helpful and supportive of other photographers is far more beneficial to the photography community than attacking a person’s character because they paid $3,000 for a new MacBook Pro or because they use a camera from a different company to you. It’s not a personal attack if someone says they like to use a different brand to another person.
Finally, in response to the start of this article, the Canon Rebel T2i (550D in Europe) was the first DSLR I purchased, I then upgraded to the Canon 7D and started to invest in L series lenses. I remained loyal to the brand because I had invested heavily in Canon glass. Had I bought a D300S thirteen years ago, I might still be using Nikon cameras. I use a MacBook Pro, as I have personally found Apple laptops to have fewer hardware and software issues than Windows machines I’ve owned. I also find the Apple ecosystem aids productivity with simple features like universal copy and paste and AirDrop. While I love using my kit, I’m not emotionally attached to it. Brand choice isn’t an identity.
If you scrolled straight to the bottom for the comments, the title was tongue-in-cheek, and you might want to read the article before rage-typing that emotional response.
Have you seen any examples of in-grouping in the photography or tech community? Let me know in the comments.