Steve Fenton

Why do we love arbitrary arguments?

We seem to be great fans of getting into really deep discussions, and sometimes arguments, over what appears to be unnecessary detail. Immaterial things that actually don’t result in anything getting better. We like to argue about stuff that cannot be proven, except by personal taste. This is okay to a point, so long as we bear in mind that our personal emotional investment is proportional to the importance of the discussion.

But quite often, we aren’t talking about something important. We are discussing two things so similar that it seems impossible that we don’t already agree.

Here are some examples of futile arguments that we should stop wasting time on.

iPhone vs Android vs Windows Mobile

The important thing is that we have a bit of competition right? If we all declared the iPhone the winner and stopped buying anything else, the product would stagnate. With three big companies competing against each other for our attention, they will all have to keep coming up with new innovations to get our interest. If you think your iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile is already perfect, how long does your battery last?

Spaces vs Tabs

Developers love this debate. Should I use tabs or spaces… followed by enforcing your view on everyone via a code-inspector. Actually, it doesn’t matter because most development environments can auto-format code at the flick of a short key. As developers, we should all know a simple RegEx that replaces tabs with spaces if they occur at the start of a line! There are much more important things to worry about before you concern yourself with this debate.

Canon vs Nikon

Similarly to the mobile phone debate, it is the competition that keeps these cameras on their toes. The presence of both on the market keeps things innovative and very soon the other DSLR brands will push both of these established leaders with one innovation or another. One word of warning for anyone buying a camera, don’t use the technical specifications to choose between them – you need to physically pick them up and take some pictures with them – and never listen to anyone who is a zealot for a particular brand.


The more polarised someone gets in their opinion, whether they support tabs or spaces, iPhone or Android – the less weight you should give their argument. If someone has actually considered both sides of an argument and presented a balanced opinion, they are much more worthy of your attention. Yes – sometimes we need to make a big statement to get someone’s attention (“You should have no less than 100% test coverage of all of your code” or “Never use code comments”), but hopefully there is substance after the headline that is less dramatic and more considered.

Written by Steve Fenton on