Geek culture changes

I have gone from working in places where I have about 4 computers on my desk plus root everywhere to working for Silicon Valley startups where people bring their own laptop to the job and no one has ever seen a terminal window before. Most of the bloggers I know (and support at work) deal with their blogs and web hosts entirely from ftp desktop clients. And at someone else’s fairly technically oriented workplace that shall remain nameless, just the other day, I over heard two people talking:

Q: So why do you people use those window things? And why are they always those black screens? Is it like, to look like The Matrix or something?
A: Um, well, I think it’s just a culture thing. It’s old school. Or something.

As I was reading through scads of comments on php.net and the forums on phpWomen.org I thought about how some people post stuff like “and here’s how I like to indent my code“, with examples. Actually I like reading that stuff and when it’s super simple, all the better. Yet I never post my own notes and habits and cheap unix tricks, because I’m embarrassed they aren’t super whizz bang hackery but are just my thoughts on vim vs. vi, or notes on how to change my csh prompt to be different colors. Why don’t I post on that stuff? I might start. How many times over the years have I gone to look something up and ended up on shallowsky.com? A ZILLION TIMES! (Thanks Akkana!) I’m not posting for programmers – actually I might be posting for the bloggers who are only just trying out their new shell account and want to know what it can do.

So about geek culture changes. Aside from people who don’t scream when they see a command line, what about the deeper culture? I was reading Rebecca MacKinnon’s post Silicon Valley’s benevolent dictatorships and thinking back on all the pocket-watch-toting, vest-wearing, oddball sys admins I’ve known. MacKinnon (heavily quoting Danny O’Brien) describes how U.S. geeks put a lot of trust in technology and the internet:

we have come to depend way too heavily on a small number of Internet and telecoms companies to conduct the most private and intimate details of our professional and personal lives. As long as those companies have values aligned with our own and are run by people we think have integrity, we don’t see a huge problem. But what if the values cease to be aligned or political circumstances change?

While I agree with MacKinnon that a company’s leaders are important, I suspect that a lot of power right now is in the hands of sys admins, quite often the actual benevolent association or intersection of hippies and hacker-anarchists who inhabit university basements and run the backbone of the net. They’re also powerful in determining what happens. I think about what is happening and how it’s partly about a cultural shift in what people think the Internet is – rather than it being something you get your hands dirty in, that you play around with, where you bother to go read the RFCs even if you’re not writing them… something that people like you are *making*… you shift it and its policies – you are its state and government – to something you consume or use that is run by far-distant giant corporations (whether they are trustable or not is not the point.) I wonder about younger generations of sys admins. Are they DIY in spirit – and have they been activists? That matters too – along with privacy policies which in theory are set by legal departments and corporate heads – because the people who will implement that stuff often care and have influence.

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A culture of free as in free beer, trust, and ethical payment

The other day I was checking out the developer preview of Songbird‘s music player, and had a few ideas. Right now you can use it like a browser, reading blogs and downloading mp3s from those blogs. In about 5 minutes I had found great music from búscate un novio and fuck me i’m twee (I’ve been listening to a lot of girly pop/punk lately.)

I’d really love to change the whole model of music distribution. Rather than buying the rights to do whatever I like with a song, I’d like to download it and listen to it without feeling like a criminal. I’d like it to be licensed under Creative Commons in some sensible way. And then I’d like my music players to include a tip jar.

If I like a song, I’ll tip the artist, or the consortium of artists, or whoever does their distribution. For example, I’d like a guarantee that the original artist gets a particular percentage of the tip. Even if I knew they would get 50%, that would make me more likely to tip than I’d be if I had zero information.

Skyrocketing downloads, as music consumers felt the confidence that they weren’t doing anything illegal, would fuel the music industry. We’d tip a song, or an artist, more than once. When I made a mix CD for someone and put my favorite song on it, I might tip again. Over the many years of listening to a song, I might tip its creator many times… generating more money for the creator, and for anyone in the middle like Songbird could be, than a simple “pay 99 cents for it” model.

I’d see in my music player that I’d tipped 3 times for a particular song or album. I could sort my music on paid-for or not, which would encourage me to want to pay more artists and feel good about my own habits.

Further, I could earn a reputation as an ethical consumer. My own profile — on Songbird, or on some public site — maybe on a badge I stuck on my blogs — could proclaim that I’ve tipped musical artists 1052 times, or dollars worth of tips, in the last 5 years.

This information could build relationships between consumer and artist, or label or consortium. Kathleen Hanna would know that I’m her loyal fan to the tune of $30 over several years, and might send me announcements, concert information, free stuff, tshirts, or free new music.

This might also avoid the morass of micropayments. Create small payment structures for specific industries, instead of a grand scheme of people passing around the same .001th of a cent whenever they read a web page.

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In which I feel pissy about DRM and iTunes

It’s the same old song as everyone else has already sung, but man do I ever hate the Apple DRM junk in my trunk. I mean stabbity stab stab! I bought this damned album on vinyl once for 12.99 20 years ago, and then I bought it on CD, and the cd got stolen but luckily I had taped it on audiotape, and then I couldn’t find it anywhere bcause it was out of print nad was deliriously happy I could find it and hear it again by clicking 99 cents thing on iTunes. And that was several years and several Macs ago and now the damned song doesn’t work! For fuck’s sake, how many more times do I have to buy this song before I get to archive it without a waste of the world’s resources?

I was contemplating how very broken things are in music distribution. Books too. I want to own the electronic copy for whatever I buy, and then be able to get or make a physical copy of it. To record and manipulate music so I can hear it in my car. To print it or get print on demand in some graceful way. Whatever! But having just a book doesn’t satisfy me either because I want to cut and paste and quote bits of the book, fair use style, or search the book, or index it or annotate it. Think of it this way. I am willing to do a fair amount of valuable cultural work — FOR FREE — which benefits us all. Art is a contribution to the world and all art builds on other art. We need to be able to expose the connections and references. It is not information I love best, though I do love it. It is meaning. Meaning created by context and for there to be context, people have to be able to access it.

This rant inspired by my resolve to get on line and buy all the CDs possible by Dressy Bessy. I got something by them on a mix CD, and then went and downloaded more, and now love them and feel a blinding loyalty. I would like to directly give that band the $12.99 and NOT buy a CD with packaging that I will likely ruin or lose anyway. Just make it so that somewhere, it is recorded on heaven’s unchangeable heart (i.e. the motherfucking IN-ternets) that I bought this music and have the rights to mess with it under whatever nice license they like. Then, if I lose the CD or my hard drive crashes I will still have the rights to interact with the bit of cultural product that I gave currency to.

iTunes of course does NOT do this… but has planned obsolescence, which I consider one of the evils our species has unleashed on the world.

Where is the lovely open source non profit Registry of Cultural Production and Rights… or the international agency… even as a part of a government… a beautifully organized repository?

That would be my own killer app.

Where I could register my intent to translate something, and pay the original author of it… Pay them directly. And then translate and publish. Think how beautiful this killer app of copyright would be for translation as well as books and music.

Or genetic material, or whatever.

(Somehow I am thinking as I say this, on the back burner of my mind, about OLPC (which is lovely in many ways but I have a big BUT) and Dil’s gold bangles from whichever Patrick O’Brian book that was. The same fallacy of physical objects and possessions and property, the same middle class assumption that the important things is STUFF.)

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