Programming and philosophising - should we leave it to the experts?

The other day I saw a filler article in an Aussie newspaper that was all about blogging (I would give you guys a link but firstly, I can’t remember which paper, and secondly, it really was a fluff piece). The theme was something along the lines of “Hey, there are billions of blogs out there now. Who reads them? What’re they all about? And, who’s really listening to all those faceless nobodies out there that are sending out their thoughts into the virtual world?” It made me stop and think because I’ve only just started writing a blog and frankly, blogging is a weird way of writing because of the scope of potential readers out there. Target audience? Even the thought of who you guys are is mind-boggling!

But the reason blogging appeals to me personally isn’t the fame, the fortune, the notoriety. It’s not even being heard or making a difference. It’s about the freedom I have when I blog to contribute to that huge dynamic entity that is the internet. And that, to me, is really exciting. It’s so grass roots, and bottom up—every little individual can be heard (or not heard) equally, can have their say, can get what they want out there. It’s not about who’s listening, it’s about who’s talking—and their ability to do so about whatever the hell they want. I think inside most westerners who have that small “l” liberal lurking in their psyche there is something that feels really right about the freedom to be heard, the freedom to hear, and the freedom to respond. And, there’s something great about reading what others have thought before you and arguing with it/building on it/changing it. So maybe the bulk of what’s out there is effete crap. That doesn’t matter. Thinking aloud has gone from the realm of those rich and influential enough to get it printed and has moved into the public arena. Freedom of speech, yeah! You can lament that the process which separates the milk from the cream as it were has gone and we are now flooded with too much information and too many voices. But natural selection will come good and the people who we think have something worthwhile to say will be the ones who we choose to listen to. But at least we get to make a really informed choice.

I brought this up because it reminds me about what is great about FOSS. It’s the same thing. Free software doesn’t have a hierarchical structure where what gets out there is what a large company has chosen to release, which you can’t make or get an improvement or a patch for, where you are at the mercy of somebody richer and more influential than you. You have the power over what your computer does, whether you’re doing it yourself or you are appealing to a bunch of dedicated geeks to help you solve something. And, if something isn’t that great, you can use something else. But we are fully informed about our choices because we’re are using programs that value free speech as it were.

Lots of people reckon that the domains of philosophising and programming should be left to the designated experts and that the little people should just shut up and stop clogging up the virtual world. But how can we select our designated experts if we haven’t seen all the options? Joe Bloggs down the street could be the next Aristotle, and Jill Bloggs could improve a program in her spare time and make a lot of people’s lives easier. Without the freedom to speak and the freedom of free software, these things may never eventuate.


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