Linux: We’re All In This Together, Right?
When I first started to explore the many lovely Linux Islands of the OS Seas, I was surprised to see the extent of the squabblings and snippy words that were exchanged between folks using what I regarded as variations of the same Operating System.
Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised at this for the very simple reason that these communications were taking place between PEOPLE. If you gather enough people in one place, they will find something to fight about.
It’s disappointing that supposedly highly evolved apes use their time and energy to pick at each other over fairly subjective matters of opinion and taste, but it does tend to help keep us from stressing about more important things like the huge inequalities in this world, the lack of obvious meaning to our existence and the fact that each of us and everyone we know is going to die sooner or later.
There is also the fact that a lot of these exchanges take place over the internet, that magical communications tool that is so popular these days. And given the opportunity to speak with people from all over the world, what do we decide to use it for? Discussing how we can make things better? Helping each other and sharing knowledge? Encouraging others to find the many joys that can be experienced during our transitory visit here? Or telling people they’re a fricking idiot for liking the things that they do and suggesting that not sharing the same opinion makes them a substandard human being?
It’s very similar to when people are arguing about music. It can be lively and entertaining but there is a tendency for those involved to express their subjective opinion as if it is fact.
I used to buy music magazines regularly, but reading them became increasingly tedious because they seemed to just become a forum for writers to blow off steam about their tastes and deride anyone for not thinking the same. At least with the internet you’re not usually handing money over directly for what you’re reading, but I have seen people arguing about how their favoured musician is playing more technically accomplished music and so it proves that they are better than whoever the other person happens to like. The fact that those songs might still sound shit to someone else appears to be lost on them.
I saw a magazine cover, just in passing one day, and it said something along the lines of ‘The Blahblahblah’s: The New Saviours of Rock ‘n Roll?’. It occurred to me that it was necessary to express it in that way to make it more exciting. An alternative that would have lacked the same dramatic punch would be ‘The Blahblahblah’s: They’re quite a good band. We enjoyed their music.’
I wonder if people feel compelled to write in a more ‘exciting’ manner because to express a more reasonable or balanced opinion would make them feel like they are boring and lacking in a zest for life.
I would like to think that people reading comments or news stories full of ‘exciting’ language can ‘re-translate’ it into the basic meaning without getting too distracted by a deliberate emotive choice of words.
Linux: No Squabbling Required
This article was originally titled ‘Linux: We’re All In This Together (so shut the f**k up)’. The purpose was to hit a few ’emotive’ buttons and get people to read on. I also thought it was an amusing and contradictory title for an article that wanted folks to get along, but I have plumped for a more reasonable version after the first editor I sent it to had reservations about the use of profanity.
When I started to write this, I had a purpose in mind. I wanted to try to encourage a less free use of subjective and opinionated diatribes. Perhaps they could be saved up just for the more important things?
The concern was that if every small niggle about what a Linux Distribution is up to is getting chased freely with high-horse rantings and vigorous venting and frothing, then we won’t have any way left of expressing ourselves when we need to show that something important has REALLY ticked us off.
This seems to be particularly obvious with regard to Ubuntu. Perhaps it’s mainly from reading people’s comments whenever there’s an Ubuntu article or news item, but it’s hard not to get the impression that there is a good deal of ill will towards Ubuntu and whatever they are trying to do.
Ubuntu has a user-base of somewhere around 20 million people. Even if those figures can be picked at, I would consider 10 million users nothing to be sneezed at. It might be a drop in the ocean compared to the user-base of Windows or Mac, but if 10 million people like it enough to use it then that’s 10 million people using a version of Linux instead of supporting a closed-off proprietary system. Whatever problems or reservations anyone has about Ubuntu, it’s still doing a good job in encouraging people away from proprietary, closed-source software. It is encouraging people to use Linux. It is encouraging people to become part of the Linux Community.
I would imagine that those using Ubuntu find that it provides all the things they require from an operating system. If it didn’t, then why would they use it? There are so many other choices and nobody is forcing them into choosing one distribution of Linux over another. So why does it seem so necessary for other Linux users to make derogatory comments towards it?
The best I can guess is that it is down to a lack of trust over why someone prefers one distro to another: If they have chosen Ubuntu then it must be because they’re an idiot, so it’d be best if I point out why their choice sucks and then they will see the error of their ways and become smart like me. In fact, they’re probably too moronic to see why I’m right so I might as well just call them names.
But that’s not the point of the Linux Community is it? Linux users should be able to unite under a banner: We have chosen at least the Open-Source option (with the option to delve further into Free Software if we so wish). We can wave the flag for what can be achieved without the need for a massive software corporation to make it happen. There is another way of creating, maintaining and improving a fully functional and reliable Operating System and the results are at least as good as the other closed-source alternatives.
So why do I get the impression that the Linux Community spends a good deal of time bickering amongst themselves? I’m hoping that it’s as simple as a disproportionate representation of ill-will. I read negative and blunt comments (which often basically amount to someone throwing their faeces at something they have taken a disliking to) and think it represents the Linux Community when in fact a large proportion of Linux users probably just don’t find it necessary to type up that they’re quite happy for other folks to find what works for them.
Some Of My Best Friends Use Windows So I’ve Told Them That They Are Arseholes
Plenty of my friends use Windows. The fact of the matter is that most of them use whatever Operating System came with their machine. They use that operating system to do the things they want to with their computer and then they go off and do something else. It’s not that important to them.
I see no reason to dislike them for it. I’m probably not going to write them a letter saying ‘You’re a tool. You should be using something better. You suck.’
I think it’s that extra layer of distance from using the internet that seems to support the sentiment that if someone is far away then it’s fine to be an arsehole to them. This is a general internet communication problem.
Before the rise in popularity and ubiquity of the internet (and our increased ease of access to it) it was not so straightforward to share opinions so freely and easily. There were layers in place that would filter out some of the less ‘well formed’ opinions.
The free exchange of ideas and opinions is a better model, but the trust is placed on the individual expressing them or reading them to add their own filter in.
Filtering through ideas and opinions is necessary for us to engage with the world. If we accepted every opinion and idea to be equally valid and relevant then we would end up in a mess. Filtering through news articles and comments and noting that the writer is deliberately being provocative without trying to help articulate their point is a useful exercise for these filtering ‘muscles’.
In the midst of writing this article my original purpose diverged. It occurred to me that a better ‘call to arms’ would be to encourage anyone, whilst trawling through their favourite Communication Expressing/Exchanging websites, to keep forefront in their minds that most of the things typed will just be opinions that may or may not have any relevance to their own.
If they are not subjective, then it’s just a plain exchange of facts.
That being said, I’m not above having kneejerk reactions to things I read. I attempt not to type up my most visceral reactions to share in reply, but I’m tempted to believe that considering and evaluating your gut-reactions is often looked at as somehow being less honest.
There’s something, that I have created a handy acronym for, that I like to call the Simon Cowell Affectation Belief System. Plenty people before him have taken on a similar persona, but I think he does it quite well and is easily recognisable. I also find him smug and arrogant, so if I find a blustering and blunt opinion I don’t particularly like, I can imagine it’s someone like him saying it and it makes it less relevant.
What bothers me about the Simon Cowell Style of expressing your opinion is that, usually, he steps up and pisses over whatever it is he’s been asked to judge and then people say ‘Ah well, at least he’s being honest’.
But it’s not an honest representation of his opinion. It might be preferred to be heard than someone being too nice about things and stepping around what their gut-reaction is saying, but it’s not more truthful. It is very deliberately blunt for effect. It is a ‘stylised’ version of the truth.
And so similarly I see this affectation in exchanges between Linux enthusiasts. I suppose it would be less interesting to read all well-measured responses, but it still surprises me that folks are so keen to trash talk each other and try to piss all over another Linux Distribution if it’s not to their tastes.
Perhaps I had mistakenly thought that there was an ethos running through Linux in general that would make folks look out for other members of their extended community. I didn’t imagine that it would be some sort of utopia, but I felt fairly sure that their appreciation for Linux and how it has been put together would temper their desire to suggest that liking the ‘wrong’ Linux distro proves that your head is up your arse.
I wonder if it’s been the case where someone, considering making that step over to the Linux way of doing things, has been put off by getting the impression that it seems to be a bunch of folk squabbling and making snippy comments at each other. I think it’d be interesting to see if a more united front might offer a better and more encouraging impression of Linux and the Linux Community to someone wondering what it is all about.
And what impression would I hope that they get if they sail past on their sightseeing tour of the Linux Islands? Well, it’s lacking in dramatic punch and ‘exciting’ language but it’d be something like:
Use Linux. Enjoy it. There’s a lot of variations but they are all based on very worthy foundations.
You can mention to people that you’ve got a specific system tailored to your tastes. You can suggest they try out something similar to see if they can see the benefits also. It doesn’t have to be the dramatic screamings of ‘NOOOoooo! Your choice proves that you’re a dickhead! You’re a fool!’ any time a Linux flavour that you personally have taken a disliking to gets mentioned.
Linux has been made with the intent of being put to good use. It is there for everyone who so chooses to make use of it and anyone who doesn’t is perfectly entitled not to. I managed fine without it but I manage better with it. I’ve tried a few different flavours and found what suits my tastes but I don’t think less of anyone else for finding something that suits them better. I may well prefer a new taste when I try a different recipe in the future.
And to all those who can’t seem to help themselves with making their combatative comments: the next time you catch yourself on the cusp of putting fingers to keyboard, bear in mind that you are choosing how you want to be heard. Are you trying to say ‘I think this is important and wish to share my thoughts’ or are you pulling your trousers up high and trying to say ‘Nyahnyahnyah! Your head is full of poopies and you smell bad’?
I for one intend to get a good bit more done by not giving much time or attention to anyone who can’t make that little bit of effort to arrange their thoughts as if they are speaking to another human being. If you’ve got an opinion to express then fire away but don’t pretend your point is more valid just because you’re choosing to be as mean and insulting about it as possible.
About the author: Perry Helion has found himself a nice beach shack in the Linux Islands. He still visits the mainland from time to time, but more just to remind himself why he doesn’t really want to live there.