Friday, July 09, 2010

Technically right, socially not so

Imagine that you let anyone use your hard work by publishing your code as Open Source and then instead of thank you notes you receive angry emails about purported bugs in it.

Imagine that you noticed a problem about some Open Source code and as a good citizen you analyze it and report your findings and instead of a thank you note you receive a reply explaining how much confused you are for thinking that that could be a bug.

Imagine that this happens in a public space like an mailing list, open bug tracker, etc. This is like the setting of a Greek tragedy - both sides have their own rights and values, both sides can be technically right - and yet the conflict spreads and escalates. People copy the emotions of each other, even perceived emotions and especially anger, when displayed publicly leads to more anger. This is a vicious circle of positive feedback loop. When it starts everyone gets irritated and everyone wants to know who started it, who is responsible for that.

But go back to the start - it's not anyone's fault - you cannot point the finger on one person and say 'he is responsible'. Looking for the main culprit is really looking for a scapegoat - a surrogate victim that would heal everyone's consciousness. This is not especially geek thing overall - it is a universal trait - but sadly inventing fodder for the scapegoat search is a prominent part of geek culture.

One of the many things that I admire about Larry Wall is how he can neutralize the poisons of angry reactions. People scorn Perl for being a 'scripting' language - he talks about Ada Lovelace:

Suppose you went back to Ada Lovelace and asked her the difference between a script and a program. She'd probably look at you funny, then say something like: Well, a script is what you give the actors, but a program is what you give the audience. That Ada was one sharp lady...

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