When it comes to hardware and software, I think there is a part in all of us that really loves the critic. This is especially true when the product being critiqued is one that we don’t like or don’t think we’ll like. After all, the critic just reinforces how smart we are. They become the voice of the child in the crowd pointing out how silly the emperor looks with no clothes and we can sit there and say, “I know! Isn’t that stupid. Can you believe those silly fans still buy that garbage?” We get to feel smug and superior, and that can be a hard feeling to let go.
Of course, it’s a very different feeling when something you actually like is being criticized. Then, the critic is just wrong. They “obviously” don’t understand the product or its inherent value to you. Those silly fools are in the pocket of whatever company is supposedly competing with your product and should be ashamed.
This is what happens on every tech page and review site that I read. It isn’t all that surprising, either. When you consider how important our technology has become to our daily life, it makes a lot sense that people would see these tools as extensions of themselves. People argue over the value and importance of their digital tools because those tools operate as signifiers of their creative work and their value. In other words, the technology that people use is often intricately linked to how they portray and identify themselves. As such, technology becomes the ultimate lifestyle brand, and my lifestyle just has to be better than yours for no other reason that because it is mine.
Open Source technology is not immune to this phenomenon. As supporters and advocates of Open Source, we often treat our use of the technology as a badge of honor that we must defend. Even within the community we fight about different types of Open Source technology, their value, and their ability to stay true to ideals of the community (as if there was even a unified idea what those ideals are). This, in turn, drives cults of tech personality that spend most of their time telling us why things are terrible except for this thin sliver of products that they approve of, and too many of us love to join into the fray.
If you read my last couple of posts, that is exactly what I was doing albeit on a less aggressive level. I won’t deny that it bugs me that I fell into that mindset. What really made me aware of it, though, was a discussion I had with a friend who asked my why I used Linux for most of my day-to-day work. I was more than happy to answer that question, so I rattled on about owning your operating system, controlling and managing when and how you get updates, and how Open Source development can help to make complex digital tools available to all.
After he left, I realized that what I hadn’t really given him a reason to use Linux. Rather than talk about how I use the technology and why I value it, I felt far more comfortable comparing it to other products. I wanted to show him why it was better. That, frankly, is stupid way to approach these discussions. It is combative and ultimately continues the perspective that we live in a one-size-fits-all world where one type of hardware or software can work for everyone. We don’t.
As I work on ramping up my writing here, I want to try to avoid too much of that type of content. Certainly, there are times when criticism is needed and necessary (looking at you Facebook and your PR attack firms), but when it comes to discussing the technology that I use I am less interested in making those comparisons. I am just going to tell you how and why I use the technology I use. In sharing my stories I’m not interested in attacking another product, but offering options to those curious to see what else is out there. The tools you use have to work for you. That is really the most important thing. I am not interested in tearing technologies down1. I am far more interested in talking about why the tools work for me.