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.