The problem with the IT industry is that we're drug-testing all the wrong people.

You Can Hack An OS But You Can't Hack People - part 5: No Help For The Helpless

Date/Time Permalink: 05/12/08 09:03:37 am
Category: General

Going forward, I'd just like to point out that I don't claim to have all the answers. What I am doing here, is attempting to ask the right questions. How can we even hope to find the answers if nobody can ask the right, logical questions first?

This time I can fall back on a previously-written piece. In "Does Microsoft impose a prisoner mentality?", I speculated that years of using Windows seems to do something to people. Something kind of creepy. It seems as if it steals their intelligence, or their will to learn, or... something. At the end of the second part, after I took one commenter's questions and made a case study from it, I closed by saying, "Beyond freeing our software and our media, it will be useless unless we have free minds to go with it."

A lot of commenters wrote in to agree with those posts. Even some Windows users stepped forward and said, yes, they did feel that Windows had given them a prisoner complex, where they got into Linux and were absolutely paralyzed - at the freedom! And here again, I will point out: normally Linux geeks are thinking in terms of the computer. Explain the process to the subject; subject's problem solved. But they aren't looking through the monitor at the person's face.

In many cases, the person is scared. And fear is an emotion! Not something you can cure with a man page or simply answering a technical question. This is a human issue, not a computer issue. And right about this time I get the interface astronauts (thanks, Joel!) who start shooting off their big bazoo about how we need to change the interface to be just like Windows and throw away the command line and the compiler and the source code and the license and - oh the hell with it, just toss Linux in the dumpster while you're at it.

But that doesn't make any difference because these Windows users are just as scared of Windows and Apple as they are of Linux! They just happened to find Windows first and clung to it, because they have had it pushed on them. They are still afraid of computers, anyway, even if they know how to move the magic blob to make the magic arrow show them their email. Changing the software will not remove their fear. This is a human issue, not a computer issue. If you don't believe me, volunteer at a career center or senior center tutoring people on computers. In person, so you can see their faces. They are afraid. If they had a Master's degree in CS, they'd still be afraid.

How is this possible that even a Master's degrees in CS wouldn't cure their fear? Well, this is called "self-selection". The people who are confident with computers are not that way only because they have CS degrees. They also were confident enough with computers to have the desire to go get a CS degree in the first place!

Now, here's the same logic run on my Windows-Prisoner-Mentality theory: Suppose that instead, people choose to use Windows in the first place out of irrational fear. Suppose that if you found computers to be intimidating, but have to use them anyway, you say to yourself, "Well, I don't know about these things, but I'll just pick what everybody else uses."

You haven't heard that before, have you? When you ask somebody why they use Windows?

So there's self-selection again. Remember, back in part 2, when I said that Windows users, above all else, desired order? Dictatorships are good with these kinds of people. Not free democracies. A dictator gets to power by exploiting people's fear, by saying "Just do what I tell you to do and leave the thinking to me." And so both conditions produce a feedback loop. Confident people go on to master computers and become gurus. Fearful people find a box to hide in where they go on to become even more fearful.

In fact, if computers did not exist, we'd still have the same problems with these people. These are the same ones driving 17 miles per hour in the fast lane and turning right in front of you without a signal. These are the people who burn the house down making microwave popcorn. These are the people who vote for whichever politician talks the toughest talk about anti-terrorism. These are the people who condemn victimless consensual crimes that couldn't possibly affect them. These are the people who pour all of their money into casinos and lottery tickets, believing superstition over math. These are the people ranting about the dangers of being infiltrated by foreigners.

You think of them as being stupid and mean, but you're wrong. What they are is SCARED OUT OF THEIR MINDS. They act this way because they do not trust themselves, they do not have confidence in themselves, and they damn sure don't trust anybody else. They see themselves as bumbling idiots. Even if you read the Bash man page out loud to them with a megaphone, even if they memorized it, when they get to that command line their thought process goes something like this: "I seem to remember a command called 'ls', but I'm a bumbling idiot so that can't be right. I'll take a guess at how to do it: 'rm -rf *' Oh, well, I'll call somebody whose job it is to fix it. After all, what were they thinking giving a task like this to a bumbling idiot like me?"

Look for it in your day-to-day interactions. Fear brings with it a whole host of secondary symptoms: projection, denial, defense mechanisms, to name a few. Whenever you're confused as to a person's motives or behavior, remember to ask yourself if it is just fear.

Now that I've driven this point home with a sledgehammer, there seems to be a dead end confronting us. This is something that we cannot fix. No matter how many operating systems and tutorials we write, no matter how patient we are, no matter how easy we make it. Our only consolation is that computers are young; the desktop computer market is still barely 30 years old. People and computers haven't had much time to get to know each other yet. Will this get better? Maybe, maybe not. Even if it does get better, it isn't going to improve at a fast pace. We have generations yet of users to work our way through.

You know what this means, don't you? This means... well, it's sad... but we have to have a cage for these people to stay in. They need a dictatorship to feel comfortable. They need to have their liberties taken away so they don't get scared at all those choices you have to make when you're free. No amount of evangelism is going to change that. There is no path to rehabilitation, at least not one we can perform using only computers. This is a problem for psychiatry to solve, not computer science. When I said earlier that I took a psychology course, it was introductory, and I didn't summa cum laude or anything. So no, I don't have the answer. When they diagnose "technophobic personality disorder" and make a pill for it, I'm sure you'll see it advertised on TV. Even then, pills are a patch for symptoms, not a cure.

One last thing: You know how we trumpet that Linux/BSD/FOSS is better because it is about freedom and democracy? Well, there are people who are scared of freedom and democracy itself, because it means taking on responsibility. In other words, liberty and freedom makes necessary the dirtiest four-lettered word you can say in this society: W-O-R-K!!!

And so we have the people who will never switch. And they will pay Microsoft to be kept in their cage. So Microsoft is never going away. If there were no Microsoft, the technophobes would invent it.

Well? Now what?

Now to the people who genuinely want to change. Even by themselves, they're hard enough to help. In part 6.

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