@ciaby @pnathan I hope you enjoy! I'm looking forward to the discussion as well.

@ajroach42 @ciaby
OK, so, I'm about a decade older than you, Andrew: I taught myself QBasic in the mid 90s, got online late 90s, never really looked back.

First, I want to say this: older computer systems - considered as systems - were generally more capable.

But to be clear, they were limited in use for those who didn't take an interest in learning them. I'm talking about things that weren't Windows 3.1+.

@ajroach42 @ciaby This was the Great Debate that was largely won by Microsoft. "Everyone can 'use' a computer.". That is to say, everyone can operate the appliance with preinstalled software. *everyone*. Apple pioneered the notion, but it turns out to be the preferred mode for businesses, who really rather don't like having specialized experts.

@ajroach42 @ciaby It is my contention that Windows (& *nix) computer systems are designed to be administrated and managed by sysadmins, and the user experience in this case is great.

When you have sysadmins, there are no driver problems. There are no printer problems. There are no problems, as a matter of fact: it's all been taken care of by the admins.

This is exactly how executives like it.

Apple does the same, with their iPhone.

Apple is the sysadmin, metaphorically.

@ajroach42 @ciaby

Here is the fundamental conundrum of computers: to use at an expert level - to really make the machine work for you, you must become an expert too, and usually a programmer, even ad hoc.

Efforts to avoid and deny this have occurred for *decades*.


Some of Engelbarts work.

Algol (ish)


Chris Granger's 'Eve'.


FPGA designers with CAD addons.

Embedded system CAD tooling

numerous academic papers

@ajroach42 @ciaby

all these systems collapsed at a point: the point where the fundamental reality of the problem met the fundamental reality of the machine.

programming had to occur.

Apple solved this by making so many programs available on the iThings for so many niche issues, that programmers would code what was needed and the user didn't have to care anymore about surmounting the issue.

Same for businesses & windows, essentially.

@ajroach42 @ciaby

so here's the problem: you're right. computers are easier to use, fsvo of use.

but the truth was, back when computers were harder to use, in the 90s... people really hated learning how to use them. there was an immense demand for not having to think (there's a book called "don't make me think" about this whole problem).

so we have this weird place where no one outside of the "'elite" wanted to care, and they resented being made to care.

so apple won by fulfilling that.

@pnathan @ajroach42 @ciaby@social.brokenbydesign.org
A sort of side dilemma with this is that, by turning computers into magic boxes for making increasingly complex layers of tasks accessible to average people, this understanding gap just widens. Average users become increasingly disconnected from even a baseline understanding of the processes and design patterns at work in computing, and the knowledge of the "elites" becomes ever more rarified.

@pnathan @ajroach42 @ciaby@social.brokenbydesign.org
How can there ever be reasoned popular discourse about the practical, moral, and political implications of modern computing, if you have to be a developer or programmer to even understand the basic concepts?

@cossimo @ajroach42 @ciaby this is an incredibly important point and its part of why I reluctantly support "everyone must code" efforts in schools, despite its attachment to the jobs ideal.

it's analogous to the idea that in a lab at school, you encounter ideas of safety and ideas relevant to the discipline, even if you never do anything with it again.

but, then again, we can describe the effects of computing without being a programmer. This is, I think, the lesson of the environmental movemen

@cossimo @ajroach42 @ciaby You don't have to be a chemist to demand that a paper mill not put outputs into your drinking water.

Likewise, you don't have to be a programmer to note that Facebook & Twitter's algorithms are outrage machines and should be regulated for the good of our society.

@pnathan @ajroach42 @ciaby@social.brokenbydesign.org
Very true. The "outrage machine" is a pretty easily understandable by-product of FB and Twitter, because it is so overt. By contrast, I think average people have much less of an understanding, for example, of the APIs, tracking pixels/widgets, apps, etc., the FB and Twitter algorithms use to collect and aggregate data about them, or how that data gets used to tailor their everyday experience.


@pnathan @ajroach42 @ciaby@social.brokenbydesign.org
I think most people are still fairly ignorant (perhaps willfully so) of how closely they are tracked and how their phones make their every action a data point.

Similarly, to riff on the chemistry example, most people are blissfully ignorant about all the *stuff* that gets put in their food and most of the inhumane or unsustainable process that are used to create it.

@pnathan @ajroach42 @ciaby@social.brokenbydesign.org
The more seamlessly invisible a technology is, the more people willfully ignore it, no matter how dangerous it is.

Anyway, didn't mean to drag this (awesome) thread off on such a tangent.

@cossimo @ajroach42 @ciaby I don't think it's precisely a tangent though: invisibility and lack of understanding - or lack of desire to understand - helped build the problem we have today.

if all users really cared deeply about understanding and collapsing the user/programmer division, then we'd probably all be using a Linux core with a Lisp machine on top; everyone would intuitively understand algorithms and how the net worked.

but they prioritize other things, WHICH IS FINE.

@pnathan @ciaby @cossimo

Lisp machines also failed economically.

CP/M was better and more widely used than DOS, but IBM took DOS anyway.

It doesn't matter what users want, if it's not offered to the users.

We have software monopolies today.

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