game, game. repeat.

Vote With Your Attention

Wed 19 October 2016 #Politics


Up until a few years ago, my software choices were largely accidents of circumstance and convenience. I started using CP/M, then an Atari 800, then DOS on a 386, then Windows, then OSX, then Debian, then Arch, then OpenBSD. Somewhere in the middle there was a mobile track, starting with dumb phones, then Palm, then Windows Mobile, then iOS, then Android, then Replicant. On the web it went NCSA Mosaic, Firefox, IE, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, vimb. Then there are editors, windows managers, email clients…I used whatever was convenient and had the coolest features. I loved trying out new tech and being on the cutting edge.

But every time I used a piece of software I became accustomed to it and it started to define my new normal…everything else became (relatively) harder to use and harder to try. I started to see the world through my software’s eyes. And the world started to see me through my software too–for example, my choice of web browser logged a vote on every site I visited: IE matters! Windows matters! The websites I visited kept track of the software I used and their creators made decisions about what web browsers to test on based on the browsers they saw.

It doesn’t stop there. I file (detailed) tickets when the software I use breaks. And a lot of time the maintainers are happy to get the bug report and they fix the issue. Other times I’ll fix the bug myself and submit a patch. And thus, the software I use gets better and better. And as it gets better and better, more people use it and compound this effect. I spend money on software and donate to software too. Guesss what? I don’t donate to software I don’t use, so my choice of ecosystem really defines where my money goes and which developers get paid and what for.

I post to forums asking for help when I’m lost. I answer others’ questions. I blog about neat things I’ve been able to do with my software, or how to work around some obscure issue–now when someone searches for an answer about the software I’m interested in, they might find it and stay interested or become more interested in that same software.

All the time and money in software flows into what we use and where we put our attention. Whether its proprietary or free (as in freedom), whether it has DRM or not, whether its keyboard based or touch based, whether its security focused or features focused…every time we use some software we’re voting for the ecosystem and ideas it embodies. We’re causing more resources to flow to those ideas and making them more likely to attract more people and more resources until their ideas come to dominate our thinking–they become the default, convenient (Chrome vs Firefox) and cheap (Intel vs Power8) choice.

So I’m going to be more intentional about where I put my attention and my vote. Its not just about what’s convenient today, its also about what choices I want available to me down the road.