I don't know how it happened, but somewhere along the line the information workers of the world lost their sense of free will. More and more, users of desktop systems are falling into a mindset of predestination, as though they were ruled by fates beyond their understanding and control.
I'm referring, of course, to the current debates as to the merits of various operating systems and software architectures. I've heard so many arguments for and against the Wintel architecture that it makes my head hurt. I've heard proponents of other competing OS's cite endless technical advantages over Windows 95, and as an eclectic user of computers I've experienced those advantages myself. Always, the technical arguments of the Wintel proponents fail to measure up to the innovations of their smaller, more nimble competitors. This is true from the perspective of the naive user, the power user, the developer and the system administrator.
In the natural course of such arguments, the Wintel proponents then react by moving the discussion to the issue of market share. Windows has "95% percent" of the market they say. This is untrue (Macintosh alone has greater than 5% all by itself, and it's not the only competitor), but 95% seems to be the commonly cited off-the-cuff figure these days. And what market are they speaking of? The server market? The multimedia market? The desktop publishing market? The Wintel dominance in these markets is questionable to say the least. Oh, you meant the office automation market...well, why didn't you say that in the first place?
As a developer I've already experienced the highly touted benefits of market share -- my game Inherit the Earth, for example, sold far more copies on the Mac than it did on the PC. It was a "kinder, gentler" game, designed to appeal to a different kind of user demographic than DOOM, one that seemed to correlate well to Mac ownership.
From a publishing perspecting, the size of the potential user base is only one factor in the overall sales equation. For example, there is reduced competition in the Mac and other minority markets. Selling into the Wintel market is like competing with the proverbial infinite number of monkeys. You can make a lot of money creating software for a minority platform, if you know how to take advantage of the market conditions there. But too many people naively assume that simply because there are many Windows users means that they will sell many copies of their Windows product.
Eventually the Wintel proponents always resort to their final argument. "It is destiny." they say. "We have seen the handwriting on the wall...It's just going to happen." And amazingly, people seem to accept this argument. I mean, really, modern 20th century educated citizens suddenly throw off everything they've ever been taught about free will, and suddenly act as if Microsoft were this unstoppable juggernaut that crushes them helplessly beneath it's wheels. I'm reminded strongly of the old Amiga game Lemmings, watching an endless parade of little creatures marching to their deaths. Even former Mac proponents are claiming that the Mac is somehow "fated" to go the way of the dodo.
This attitude not just stupid, it's immoral. It's immoral because it is an abdication of personal responsibility, a cosmic cop-out. "Universe! Do with me what you will, for I am a VICTIM and not responsible for my own actions!"
You may think I'm being extreme here. "After all, we're only talking operating systems here. It's not as if anybody's LIVES were on the line...how dare you call my actions immoral when we are merely talking about technical details of some software program."
Wake up! If you don't think that the technical infrastructure of the entire planet is important than you haven't been paying attention. Millions of man-hours per day are wasted by people struggling to use badly-designed technology. Billions of dollars of both monetary and human capitol, which could be put to more productive uses, are being squandered by technology that claims to make our lives simpler and easier when in fact all it does is cause us extra stress and suffering. We become addicted to the endorphin rush that comes from getting a badly designed printer interface to finally work after eight hours of struggling.
Humor me for a moment..for the purposes of this essay, let us define a "good" act as one which contributes to a healthy, empowering global technical infrastructure which helps people maintain happy and healthy lives. If that is so, then don't we all have a responsibility to contribute to that good, or at least not hinder it?
OK, so maybe you really do think that the Wintel platform is the best way to achieve that good. I can respect that opinion. I can respect someone who truly believes that their system is technologically superior, more efficient, less wasteful both their own labor and the earth's resource. (And I can't really pass judgement on someone who is forced by their job to use a platform which for them is less than optimal.)
But I have nothing but utter contempt for the person who DOESN'T believe these things, and yet continues of their own choice to use a system which in their own opinion is inferior, simply because "It is destiny". Even worse is the MIS director who mandates that others use such a system, for the same reasons. I regard that person about as enlightened as a Dark Age peasant, and I'll have no hesitation about treating them accordingly.
Public opinion is not destiny. Public opinion is not inexorable. It is not an object, it doesn't have mass in the Newtonian sense. Beware of bad analogies! A better metaphor for public belief and preference would be the weather -- a storm can seem huge, frightening, unstoppable -- yet, given enough lead time it can be influenced by the flap of a butterfly's wing.
10,000 people who fervently believe a particular thing can change their mind in a day. Look at the former Soviet Union. Millions of people, a huge land mass full of them, all living within a system that seemed unbreakable, unassailable, an idealogical stronghold. Then, in a period of time which in historical terms was merely the blink of an eye...it wasn't there anymore. The people had changed their minds, or in some cases changed their leaders.
I was always taught that as a human, born into this world, I was free to choose my own path. That I could learn to be and do anything that was within the limits of human ability, as long as I tried hard enough. I was born with sufficient intellect, health and drive to be able to tackle the very hardest problems, as long as I was willing to dedicate a large portion of my life to the task.
I was taught that you had to fight for what was right. If you didn't, then the natural entropy of the world, the tendancy of systems to rot and fall into disrepair, would undermine all that you loved. I'm as lazy as the next man (lazier in fact), but even I know that if I don't get up off my butt once in a while and take a stand, the world that I eventually want to live in will never come to pass. You can't let things slide and let others take control, because many of those "others" will have agendas that are inimical to your own. I don't think that people are born good, or bad, or innocent, or full of original sin. But they are born as biological systems who hunger for resources and stimuli and power over their environment, and they are messy and complex and tend to muck things up when they are too lazy to think about what they are doing.
I believe that an individual can have an effect. I believe that I, personally, can change the way the world works. I believe that people have to take responsbility to maintain and care for those things that they love about the world, because if they don't, those things will eventually go away. And that's the way the world works.
Because if that isn't the way the world works...if we truly are the victims of fate, and the mass opinions of 6 billion people are careening out of anyone's control, and decisions are made not by what is "right" or "sensible" but merely the inexorable momentum of mob preference...then we really are doomed.
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