American Nihilist Underground Society

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The world of computing reminds me of the fracture that splits our society down the middle. On one side are the individualists who want to fall backward into a utopic society based on self-gratification, and on the other side are the pragmatists who view life as a process of labor, advocating a semi-collectivism based on cooperative morality. Is either right, or wrong? That these divisions exist is for the long-term view, wrong.

The left side view is that of people such as, say, those who support Open Source Software as a religious mantra. They would like a world that does not obstruct their social and personal desires, such as sexual freedom or drug use freedom or the ability to live outside conventional time management. They believe that if we achieve these things, society will automatically function in a utopic state. It sounds almost silly, but it has a vital strength: it believes in changing things toward something better. As the nerd community becomes further pinched by offshoring, contrivances of self-image will compensate. Apple users are a small but vocal and morally self-righteous section of this group (who seem to have forgotten that a "machine for the people" needs to stop hiding information and function from them).

On the right, of course, is the typical corporate employee. "We run Windows XP because it's the best option with a major company behind it," he says to your face, and you wonder why he's not embarrassed. Then you realize that he's right. His job's in the slinger if he purchases a new machine, and finds that in order to get a device driver he has to either (1) write it himself or (2) beg some guy with an identity complex to write it for him, usually in public on a newsgroup or mailing list. He doesn't want to put himself at the mercy of some of the total nutcases in the Open Source movement, and he surely won't use Apple. He is correct because Windows, with superior hardware management and very fast access to basic end user function, is what most people need and should have. They don't care of Linux has better multitasking; they don't have to beg for drivers, and someone is always answerable (and askable about) any particular function.

What crushes us is this division, as it blinds these people to their common interest. Both would like a superior tool. The nerds won't do anything for the prags, and vice versa, since the prags don't want to rely on the legendarily less-than-stable mentality of the nerds. Thus no excellent hardware management for the nerds, and no free software for the prags. I doubt software will ever be truly free, as nothing is ever "free" (except HIV), but I think the future of software is corporate support contracts and probably, a $20 service added onto your cable bill which can get you a WindowsUpdate-style system which will fix your computer and add software as needed. This doesn't require it be written exclusively in committees, or that it be closed-source, but it does require that it work pragmatically. It will be interesting to see if either group can look beyond the 1-year prediction to make something collectively useful (one might point to Sun's OpenOffice as a possible start, except that like most open source software, it's got lots of whizbang features, no organization and is higly unreliable).

August 12, 2004