Wednesday, December 4

on software

You don't get to define how people use software. (Not shouldn't, but can't.)

"the street finds its own uses for things"


The act of naming is an act of creation, but that doesn't make it a healthy one. Few things are harder to kill than broken ideas brought to life as catchy names. The programmer forever overlooks a landscape composed of broken ideas tangled in the impenetrable branches of a thorny and fog-shrouded reality. They writhe, these ideas, in their agony, lashing out at passersby and dreaming hungrily of middle managers, CEOs, consultants, politicians, cops, investment banks, waiting only for some clever name to set them free in the world of meeting and feature request, implementation and policy...

Never forget that the architects of oppression are playing the long game.

If you're gonna seek rent, seek honest rent.

All existing systems are terrible. This knowledge enables, if it is held lightly and in humility. Much of the time, it is the machinery of hubris, and functions as a rationale for burning what already works. Technical culture is totally and pathologically confused about the distinction between novelty and quality. Everywhere we trade existing goods and abandon hard-won wisdom for the illusion of originality. We behave like bad poets, locked permanently in a feverish haze of the anxiety of influence.

Nothing is more vexing to the bad programmer than a problem solved well. Nowhere will the bad programmer be more industrious than in destroying the work of good programmers.

(The bad programmer is often a good programmer working for bad reasons, caught in a fit of pique, depressed, bored, lonely, sick.)

Stallman and his co-agitators were mostly right, and in reducing a program of necessary human liberation to a mode of economic convenience for our paymasters, we have created the conditions of our own defeat and sold out an entire civilization. If the people who use our systems feel betrayed, it is in part because we in the hacker class have betrayed them.

Freedom is an end and a means we have powerfully misunderstood. Freedom to is as important as freedom from. Capability matters more than permission. Open systems are survival characteristics of a functioning society and a healthy technosphere. Until we recognize and communicate the pragmatics of liberty and security, we will continue to do harm with our technology and fail in our politics.

And let's not kid ourselves: The seekers of rent and the centralizers of power often succeed because they build systems that people can inhabit. If we want to engineer against a networked world that is wholly owned, wholly surveilled, and wholly contingent on the aims of State and Corporation, then we had better find ways to make our tradition more humane and our work more directly useful to people at large.

All hell is in the details.