everyone's always complaining about how much they hate computers but I love them, I love computers

the things mostly dislike about computers come from a feeling of disempowerment. but computers can be very empowering, if we let them, if we make that a priority

Just to follow up here generically to the many followups one can make that: "Yes, but hardware and software aren't currently being designed to empower users"

Yes. Exactly my point. Let's make it a priority to change that!

@cwebber yes, but have you seen most of the software we're expected to run on them?

@technomancy @cwebber

I think this is basically the issue. To a certain extent, without changing the socio-economic structure(s) all of this is embedded in, it's hard to see how to make meaningful, long-reaching change.

@technomancy @cwebber @emacsomancer Marketters have done so much harm in the computingspace. Unfortunately that doesn't mean we don't need them to have an impact...

@cwebber Well, I like computers in the generic thing that they are but it follows sturgeon's law so 90% of hardware/software is crap and the vast majority of people don't know how to use computers.
@cwebber Well… people rather than users.
Like, robot police dogs empower their user (police) but they're used against people.

@cwebber I think it goes somewhat beyond hardware and software. It's a shift in attitude. The first generation of computer hobbyists back in the 1970s saw computers as empowering. But over time that morphed into a massive commercial market that, in many respect, took away that empowerment piecemeal.

Not entirely sure what it means to prioritize empowerment again. Open source has tried--and largely failed--to do so.

@chronrevisited Open source is arguably in some ways similar to computer hobbyist things of the 1970s (and into the 80s) - including being somewhat limited to a very small set of people who tend to be privileged in certain ways (if not always in others).


@emacsomancer @cwebber I think that's a good point. Obviously, the 70s/80s hobbyists tended to focus on hardware more than software, while today's open source community tends to be the reverse.

@chronrevisited @cwebber "largely failed" is a matter of perspective. If you were waiting on the year of the linux desktop, then yes, it largely failed. If you are a person who runs primarily free software and enjoys tinkering with it, or if, like myself, you learned to program by reading the free documentation of open source projects and reading their source code, then open source has been a massive success.

@cwebber I agree. But:

Software should be the easier part of that, and even there most user-empowering software doesn't reach beyond very small percentages of users.

And hardware is hard.

(And figuring out what counts as "empowering users" is also perhaps non-trivial. Arguably both Emacs and Minecraft empower their users (in different ways), despite being very different types of software and being licensed in very different ways.)

@emacsomancer @cwebber this so much. there is so much variety in people's needs, skills, goals, problems, and willingness to engage with computer stuff, and there's no one size fits all view of empowerment through computers. programmers very often get caught up on extremely petty and honestly pointless debates like whether or not emacs or minecraft is the better text editor, and it's really quite sad.

@cwebber @aeva

(What will happen first? A Minecraft client written in Emacs or Redstone Elisp interpreter?)

@emacsomancer @cwebber well, i honestly don't know to what degree emacs gaming has or has not progressed beyond tetris and snake, but i did a quick search and found that someone actually has implemented a simple text editor in minecraft, so at the moment i feel like there's probably more momentum in at least the vague direction of a redstone elisp interpreter than there is towards mx-minecraft

@aeva @cwebber

The graphics part would presumably be the sticking point for Emacs (there are some cool gaming things in Emacs, e.g. malyon [ ] but many are more text-based). Probably one would need some Java component which Emacs could communicate with.

The Minecraft text editor sounds cool.

I imagine implementing LISP 1.5 might be possible in Redstone?

@emacsomancer @cwebber well seeing as neither goal post specifies perf, i think it would be valid for mx-minecraft to just render to text or use the chonky tetris blocks, even if it's a soft renderer that cranks along at seconds per frame.

i think the easiest way to build the redstone elisp machine is probably just build a risc-v emulator and then load linux and emacs onto it. i'm sure someone must have made a vhdl to redstone compiler by now

@aeva @cwebber

(there's a tiny bit of IRC chatter about trying to use ABCL to interact with Minecraft - not quite the same thing, but... )

@cwebber @chronrevisited @emacsomancer How do we make modern washing machines empowering? What about the CCTV systems we're swimming in? The point-of-sale systems we use in shops? When we zoom out from the 'things with screens people use with the net' definition of "computers", and define them more broadly as 'any technology that uses digital hardware/ software', it quickly becomes clear this is a problem that can't be solved solely through individual choices and actions.


@cwebber No, of course. But as you know, there are many in the community who still don't see that deep structural work needs to be done to protect people's freedoms from digital totalitarianism. I posted my comment after reading and posting about the well-meaning FSFE campaign to convince people to "upcycle your Android". Campaigns like that might achieve more by, for example, coordinating reverse engineering to create free code support for more old devices.

@chronrevisited @emacsomancer


even in the best communities, I see an humongous cultural deficit

and I'm frankly pessimistic about that

@cwebber tbh I've seen casual users create the same solutions they might have created with BASIC in the '80s & '90s using tools like Microsoft Excel with recorded and VBA macros.

So I wonder if perhaps most people *are* empowered to at least some extent, but there's a mismatch between how techies and non-techies perceive and use tools to accomplish tasks, and whether techies might be overly-concerned with pushing the tools they view as "legit".

@cwebber I like this train of thought

but what does it mean to make computers empowering? what does it enable people to do?

I would say mostly either:

A: Doing something you wouldn't have been able to do (easily) otherwise.
B: Making the computer do something it couldn't do before (often leading to A).

People tend to mostly experience A, and usually is a context where someone else gets to do B, and someone else benefits from the new things you can do.

@gamayun @cwebber I'm struggling with the abstract

much software allows for both but is clearly not empowering (maybe?)
Facebook allows you to communicate with your friends and share updates, but I wouldn't call it empowering software.

@cwebber past about 1999-2002, i think i love some theoretical computers and hate most actual ones, but that's half a product of your second paragraph and half a product of _who_ they've been empowering.

@cwebber There is also some amount of negative bias. We forget all the good things but remember the bad bits.

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