Internet Burp
The Battle for the Hardcore

Branded Stockholm Syndrome

You know Stockholm syndrome, the psychological reversal that sometimes causes hostages to become emotionally attached to their captors? I can’t help but feel that something quite similar happens with the corporations from whom we purchase an increasing proportion of the equipment and supplies for daily life.

Take my current situation. While living in the US, I had a Hewlett Packard printer – nice unit, actually. But both of its ink cartridges contained a pathetically small volume of ink, forcing me to replace them almost weekly, not to mention the printer did not support a setting to force printing in black and white (to do this, I had to physically remove the colour cartridge, something that I had to do regularly). I grew to loathe HP for this, and swore blind I wouldn’t buy another HP printer. Yet, when the office here in the UK needed a new printer, I ended up actioning the purchase of, yes, another HP printer.

Or look at my new laptop purchase decision. Ever since seeing Matt Mower’s swanky Macbook do things my laptops have never done (like come back from standby in less than an eternity), I’ve been thinking of ditching Microsoft’s bloated and embarrassingly ill constructed operating systems for the stylish dictatorship of Apple. Yet, when I played with a Macbook Air in the shop the other week, I got cold feet – just using a mouse with a single button was enough to freak me out. I’m sure I’d learn to use it, but it was sufficiently different to make me nervous. And now it looks like I will be getting yet another Windows-based laptop (although I pray I will not be lumbered with Vista any time soon).

Which makes me wonder: am I suffering from some kind of brand-version of Stockholm syndrome? I hate these companies, yet continue to give them my money. And this is doubly bizarre since elsewhere in my life I maintain such staunch boycotts on political grounds – Nestlé are still a company I will not purchase from after the African powdered milk scandal of the 1970's (despite the fact that I can’t work out what action it would take from the multinational packaged food company that would end the boycott at this point), and my pointless boycotts of EA (such as FEAP, the Futile EA Protest) have remained a feature of my life for some time as a vain attempt to protest their lack of investment in original titles. 

Psychologists suggest that Stockholm syndrome, and similar situations such as abused spouses who remain loyal to their partner (which they term trauma bonding, or bonding to the perpetrator) are a result of power relations – we bond with our powerful abuser, they say, because it is in our best interests to do so. I have some sympathy with this view – I certainly see it to some degree in non-human social animals, such as meerkats, who need to maintain tight social groups in order to survive. From the individual perspective, though, the fear generated by the abusive situation can become unbearable; the switch could thus be seen from another perspective as anxiety management (psychology is never as neat as physics, there are always multiple forces at work, and thus multiple explanations available).

Wondering whether I have trauma bonded with Microsoft and HP after years of abuse is a disturbing idea… these companies have brought me such suffering over the years, admittedly on a grossly trivial scale as far as human suffering goes, yet I stick with them – albeit with great reluctance. (In respect of the triviality, I am reminded of Mel Brooks’ line: “tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel and fall down, and comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die”). 

Partly, however, my failure to escape has been a result of other circumstances. I was not keen on getting another HP, but of the units available in the shops around me (I’m reluctant to buy equipment I haven’t at least seen, although I sometimes examine units in the shops and then order online) only Hewlett Packard had one that checked all the boxes. Plus, it was grossly reduced in price, and this seemed like an incentive rather than, say, a trap. Similarly, I can’t ever truly escape Windows while I work in the videogame industry and am developing for Microsoft operating systems on a regular basis. These other factors cloud the issue somewhat.

I wonder if other people have any similar experiences. Have you ever noticed something akin to Stockholm syndrome in your dealing with companies? Ever stuck with a company that has abused you, or found yourself buying repeatedly from a corporation you hate? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Completely unrelated to the main point of your post: in my (limited) experience, laptops with Vista seem better at things like recovering from standby than with earlier Windowses. Obviously there are major flaws, like being unable to play a lot of games, but I haven't run into these very often. Most old games I want to play I can just dosbox. YMMV.

How come a single button mouse on Macbook? Mac nowadays do have more than one button even it seems only one.

Buy MacBook, get used to hidden multi-button mouse (it is, honest), install dual-boot Windows XP for those horrible moments when you can't avoid the OS?

I continue to buy my groceries from Tesco or Wal-Mart - sorry, Asda. I buy fuel from them, or from branded garages. I run Windows on my (various!) computers. I do these because it is convenient to me to do so - my total spend (a blend of time, thought and money) is minimised. I have chosen to continue to live in this society, so I choose to make the best *for me*, as far as I can judge it at the time, of what it has to offer. If that's "being in the best interests of" me, as the abused, then so be it.

But I don't buy HP inkjet printers, because they are overpriced, poorly engineered pieces of crap. Which is a shame, because almost everything else in HP's range that I've used, from oscilloscopes through in-circuit processor emulators to LaserJet printers, is decent hardware - even if most of it does have horribly idiosyncratic drivers that kill machines unexpectedly.

dj i/o here..

Thought provoking article, Chris.
It's easy to boycott something when there is another easy alternative. Don't buy Nestle? Well, there is always Hersheys. I have been boycotting ATI and D-link for a while (due to several terrible product experiences), but I can always go buy an Nvidia card and some Linksys networking hardware.

It is harder not to "trauma bond", however, when there is little alternative. I think most of us are slaves to Microsoft. I love the underground, independent spirit of Linux.. But as a gamer hobbyist and a musician (most music software I need being for Windows), it has never been and probably never will be a viable alternative.

It's always exciting to root for the underdog. Brand loyalty is great too, but I've noticed (at least with myself) that it can be swayed very easily. I used to always root for AMD, since back in the mid 90's around the K-6 era (around when I was really old enough to become a computer enthusiast and purchase my own hardware). Most of the CPU's I purchased from about 1995 thru 2005 were AMD brand. Back in the late 90's, it was great.. Here is an underdog company with a small percentage of the market share (maybe 10-20% at the time) that produces comparably fast CPU's for a significantly lower cost. And then of course, when Athlons came along, AMD had created a really competitive product at an incredible price point, started gaining market share, and people started standing up and taking notice of AMD. I almost felt a sense of pride. Here was the company I was rooting for from the start, growing up and becoming a respectable competitor in the marketplace! I swore I would never buy an Intel CPU because they were such a "rip off".
But then the time came in 2007 to buy a new CPU. The dual core Athlon 64's at the time were starting to age, but Intel had just released its Core 2 duo lineup. Price to performance, the Intel CPU's were a much better deal. So what did I do? Buy an Intel CPU of course! And I love it actually

Same thing happened in the early 00's. 3dfx was dead but I was still clinging to the last bit of life in my Voodoo 3. It was time to upgrade. Nvidia had almost a stranglehold on the market with its Geforce 2 lineup, which I considered the monopoly devil at the time. I know ATI has always been a respected graphics company, but at the time they didn't have anything to compete with Nvidia. Then they released the original Radeon series (before they even had a numbering system). I bought one, because it was the underdog at the time. I had trouble with it, RMA'ed it, and had trouble with the replacement. So I sold it and swore I would never buy ATI again, and later finally jumped on the Nvidia bandwagon in the Geforce 4 era. And now I've had 4 Nvidia cards with no problems with any of them.

Of course, just like Microsoft, if there was no true hardware competition, I would willingly buy in and trauma-bond with whatever company made whatever CPU/graphics card I needed to play the games I want.

But.. It's a good thing there is hardware competition.. and now that I've finally come around to the Intel side, and now that AMD and ATI are in bed together, and Intel and nvidia are in bed together, AMD/ATI seems doubly evil.

I expect to be an Intel/Nvidia loyalist for a LONG time...

That is, until Cyrix and Matrox make a comeback!!!! :-D

Another way to think about it (and that I've found myself using now and then) is that you often go with the "known evil" over the "unknown evil". So yes, sometimes you insist on punishing yourself buy buying from a company you hate, because you are more fearful of the problems and issues you might have if you switched.

Oddly enough, I'm a happy recent Mac convert who boots into Windows at work and/or to play games. Of course, I've kept on using the two-button mice on my Wacom tablets...

I agree with Jose that it's better the devil you know.

The resident ihobo troubleshooter doesn't support Macs, unfortunately.

And the HP printer was a bad idea, encouraged by a cheap price point, the first unit returned to the shop immediately... And setup issues never really went away.

I think we can add to this the fact that as we get older we tend to have less time we are willing to spend learning how to make a new thing work. It means that even though we know the choice we will make is far from ideal, at least we know those problems. We won't be searching new forums for answers to new problems...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Brog: Vista does something well? I'm shocked! :D

閻魔彌勒: I'm prepared to believe that the Macbook mouse button does product two types of click - my point was simply that it was new and different and freaked me out - I wasn't claiming to have understood it! :)

Peter: it is definitely Wal-Mart; they don't even hide it now. I swear, every year the font in which Asda displays its Wal-Mart subtitle gets bigger and bigger! :) And I agree with your assessment of HP inkjets. The irony of this purchase is that what we were actually buying was a *fax machine*. It just happens to also be an inkjet - dedicated fax machines seem to be a vanishing market.

dj i/o: TypePad ate your name *again*. It's almost magic! :) I agree that the availability of competitors is a key issue, here, especially with respect to Microsoft. Interesting account of your brand relations with chip manufacturers... I find it impossible to maintain any sense of connection with something as deep below the surface of my experience as a CPU! :)

Jose: as Neil says further down "better the devil you know" is an English phrase that captures a key part problem; nice observation.

Deirdra: so... how long before you start evangelising for Apple, then? I think it takes a few months before the mind control kicks in... ;)

Neil: doesn't *yet* support Macs, you mean? >:)


Well the Troubleshooting department would need its own Mac to get acquainted with to be able to offer any help.

I don't see this happening, so although you're right, the dept. doesn't yet support Macs, I'm not holding my breath either. :-D

Chip-wise, I was a price/performance buyer for some years; I'm now a noise/performance buyer as long as the machine has enough power to do what I want. Which presently means Core 2 for the medium-end stuff, or VIA and pure passive cooling for the low-end stuff. You might note there's no "high-end" in there, as I don't tend to play the latest titles and don't need the raw GPU power they demand.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)