Why compute ?

So, here’s a question I’d like to put to all you hackers out there that do all the great things that I think gnome is, gnome and the free software movement in general is something that has tought me alot about communicating and compromising with people and I think its important first to take into account some of the positive things about computing in general before I go and question it… I guess I only feel that way because I’ve invested a small handfull of the limited years of my life into computing and I dont believe in regrets – so there must be something or some reason for me to have spent all that time computing.

Well, back to the real question… “Why do we do it ?”, well here are my personal reasons for better or worse:

  • Jukeboxes: I’ve been writing jukeboxes for over 6 years now, at first I was just an uneducated street kid with a talent for problem solving that took up computing as a hobby. Later I think I was attracted to the sheer ambition of it – in short, all the wrong reasons… I did it for money, for recognition from my familly & community around me… the one reward is after a long night of coffee & cigarettes I could get a moment of “Eurika !”
  • Glade: Well free software is a different story – I got into contributing to free software just because I think its a great way for people to rebel, “we the people who refuse to feed the machine will make it on our own thankyou” – these dreams of mine are unfortunately not very well recieved, many free software groups are so tightly bound to huge evil moneymaking corporations that I get the feeling the difference between open source and free software is a line that is getting more and more blurry. That doesnt mean the battle is lost, but it also doesnt mean that free software is of any more practicle use to the world then proprietary software – its just software and thus is most probably a waste of time.
  • Breakdance: I know I’m a pure bboy through and through because I do it purely for the love of the art – this gives me meaning in life because I can teach by example, I express myself and through my own expressions I can show people thier own true potential through myself – standing up for your own beliefs and not being scared to express them is of the highest personal value – this is the sole responsability that comes with being human; one man cant change the whole world but at least he can express his beliefs… even if it costs him his livelyhood or “prestigous reputations”.

So – I think we can all agree that Jukeboxes arent going to make the world a better place, I can tell you straight up that they’re not helping global warming – they also support record labels – which is just another means of massmarketing art – that means everyone gets to listen to one artist on thier CD player – and all the other artists starve – people hardly go to see local artists at shows, and as a further result – people dont meet one another at shows/plays/operas because now they can all have the luxury of drowning their brain on their own tv set

How about the desktop PC ? what is the desktop doing to stop global warming ? not to mention video games – i.e. the successor of what used to be the child’s imagination, what will become of our next generation as a result of our mindless obsession with these boxes hooked up to screens just plugging us into web ? (or plugging us “out of the real world”) ?

I’m writing this and posting it because I’m sitting here at my workplace trying to figure out what kind of moral justifications I have for being at this job, I do indeed feel guilty for sitting here and doing absolutely nothing usefull/helpfull to the world, so what will I do ? can you convince me that there is some point to computing ?

7 thoughts on “Why compute ?”

  1. What you are doing is creating wealth. You are creating something that has tremendous value out of your brain. And by doing that, you enable to economy to expand. And you get some of that wealth, which you can spend stuff which will make the economy work. And this whole thing prevents us from being part of the third world and allows us collectively to do things that are good (or bad for that matter).

  2. What I mean is: Whether computing is of some use to you or not, depends on what you want. I would make my highest priority the determination of: what you want to do, what you want to be, and so on.

    I wouldn’t ask people to persuade you that computing is helpful or not– I would determine what I wanted on my own, independently. From there, it should be clear whether computing is part of your vision or not.

  3. in reply to Tester:

    The world is separated between those who have power and
    those who dont, so long as there are people who are greedy
    and care about having power & wealth – those people will be
    in power.

    However, those who spend their lives building power & wealth
    must have missed the point – in life one must have
    convictions, joy, pain and share these human experiences…
    lest they end up on their mountain of riches looking back
    on what they might have actually done with their lives.

    The same can be seen to apply to a society as a whole,
    what is the meaning/value of being more technologically
    advanced than the next nation ?

    In reply to Lion:

    Yes you hit the nail on the head, its obvious to me that
    computing is not a part of my vision, but I’ve been hacking
    for so long that its become a crutch – it would also be
    interesting to hear about it if anyone on the planet is a
    hacker for any reasons that they could share – why THEY
    believe that hacking will improve the world – maybe that
    would help improve my own vision of the world.

  4. Hacking is like plumbing. You always need a plumber and it isn’t always obvious how the plumber has contributed to world peace…Until your toilet backs up.

    For some its a calling, but either way its like hunting was back in the day. Not that I really know what hunting was like, but I can appreciate the simple joy that a hunter must feel during the hunt. I also can’t think of a direct analogy to hacking, but maybe hunting was/is like debugging. Or rowing a boat, who knows… Its seems like its all about finding meaning in the uphill battle.

    The success of any hacking session will be determined entirely on how well you are able to visualize the problem space. It isn’t even about finding a solution, its about creating as complete a map of the problem space in order to go from one blissful state of eureka to another (not sure how that happens, but not sure either how to purposefully trigger eureka moments).

    Why do you think some of the poorest nations in the world are also the happiest? Or why the fanatic can be so completely committed to their objective? Its because to them, the problem space is fully mapped. Which isn’t to say they don’t have doubts or fear, but that the only solution is to move forward. The only solution is to be…from one moment to the next with nothing in between. I think enlightenment is when you realize that even moments are full of nothing.

    The same way you can express yourself and allow others to realize their potential by observing you break dance, is the same way a hack can express your individuality. A only difference is that computing is available to more people than break dancing. Even grand parents can realize their potential by using an application you hacked together. Maybe they use your jukebox to listen to music they loved as kids, streamed from some corner office in a country where English not the native language, but where music is still universal.

    Its hard to measure the full impact that computing has, but at the very least it is changing the way we communicate in part by re-appropriating some of our ancient communication devices (reading, writing).

  5. Think of software as an extension of the human body — then the value of Free Software is clear: Would you really want your right arm to be owned by Microsoft?

    The countries of the world have alternatives to Microsoft. Doesn’t this give them a stronger, more autonomous position in the world?

    New ways grow where things are growing; They do not compete against established powers. If your business is freedom and autonomy, the growing global cybernetic infrastructure is clearly attractive: Better to do your work when things are forming, rather than when they’re actually formed.

  6. Gervais:

    Very interesting comments – I dont have enough first hand
    experience with third world nations to really say that they
    are happier – but I would definitly expect them to be, as
    they obviously have better things to do than exploit other
    nations for their cheap labor and resources.

    I also suppose that computing in general can be seen as
    a modern analogy of the postal system or the telephone –
    this can be used in positive and negative ways – myspace.com
    is a good example of how independant artists can network
    together and advertize without the aid of mass media
    corporations (which in turn, have their own uses of the
    internet & computing world).

    One point I’d like to make is that I believe breakdance
    is in fact available to more people than computing – it
    only takes motivation to breakdance, you are not required
    to purchase a piece of hardware or do any dealings with
    an isp or anything – to show people that after years of
    dedication I’ve managed to accomplish something – is to
    show them that they dont need to follow the program or
    work for a company who’s ideals do not fit with their
    philosophy… in short – many people live under the illusion
    that social security is more important than freedom of

    Whether the programmer is essentially useful as a plumber
    is useful is debatable, that all depends on whether you
    think plumbing or computing are needed in your way of life.
    plumbing is obviously a good thing when it comes to living
    in large communities such as cities, computing on the other
    hand has many negative impacts that go along with some
    arguably positive impacts on the world.

    Consider that the information that is the internet is a
    collective of all sorts of imagined ideas of humanity –
    kind of like a huge interactive library… if a monk were
    to dedicate their life to the understanding of a library
    and always have their nose in the books – thats their
    perogative, meanwhile life goes on outside all around us
    and every moment spent tinkering with this imaginary world
    of our own invention is a moment we could have spent in
    real life… a moment that we could have been using the
    body that was given us at birth instead of wastefully
    throwing it into a comfortable armchair…

    I am sorry to express my negative views but this was
    really my sentiment when I posted it, I am glad to hear
    and share your philosophical views though.

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