Reflecting on 9/11 - how important is what we do?

by Kevin Bedell

I'd been writing the weblog now for a little while and I was still trying to get my legs under me. I wasn't sure yet if I was making a difference - didn't know if I was approaching it the right way. I decided to check in with my mentor Lester Stallman Raymond Bangs. It was late; I was sure he'd be home and up. He was probably blaring distortion music and hacking 500 words an hour on his favorite new obsession - Free the Mouse!

"I read some of your stuff", he said, "It sucks".

"Is it really that bad?" I was crushed.

"Listen Kid, it's not you. Don't take it personal. Everybody's stuff sucks. It's just that with the major corporations and governments trying to control everything now - not to mention the hits that privacy is taking - it ALL sucks. Hey, did you check out those open source links I sent you?"

"You mean the one that generates mp3's that simulate
amplifier feedback? It blew out the speakers on my desktop."

"Mine too!", he said, "Ain't it great!"

I had the TV on as a distraction. They were talking about September 11th. I had my music cranked and the TV on mute. Closed captioning was on and the words were scrolling across the top of the screen, "Ypsterday the mayor toured grnd zerro with reporters" - closed captioning always garbled the words - "wev trained and we'll tran somm more". I sighed.

"Sometimes it just seems that writing about this stuff - computers and software - doesn't really matter much", I complained, "It just doesn't seem that important with everything that's going on".

"That's just what they want you think!" Here he goes on one of his tirades, I thought. It sounded like he dropped the phone for a minute; I could hear him cursing.

Finally he continued, "If you think this stuff isn't important then you need to learn something. All this Internet and open source stuff - it's critical. It couldn't be more important. This stuff is giving poor countries an opportunity for the first time to get their hands on top quality applications. This stuff is real software.

"And what do they do with it? They're bulding sites to let them communicate with rest of the world. They're publishing their national newspapers so readers all over the world can see their point of view. They're building applications in their own languages to help drive productivity, create
economic growth and keep services revenue in their own countries where it will create good jobs.

(The TV was showing more reruns of Sep 11th. "Osamma blad binng flew asd afghanismm", the closed captioning went on, "the fimere a polimen were heros that day".)

"All this stuff adds up to be huge.", he continued, "It's driving communications to make things smaller. It's driving us closer together and giving us something in common. It's something we can share and collaborate on when everything else is driving us apart."

His voice got quieter. "Listen up, I'm not going to kid you. There's a lot of messed up stuff going on in the world. It's a dangerous place with pitfalls everywhere. But don't underestimate how important you are - how important we all are. This stuff is critical"

He paused. "And besides", he said, "ALL your stuff didn't suck. Some of it was actually OK. Good even."

"Thanks.", I said, "See you later." I hung up.

Maybe he was right, I thought. I hoped so.


2002-09-10 13:57:31
Sure It's Important
I don't know as how I'd want to make a distinction between commercial software and open-source when you ask your question. Real-life I work for a large company and I am proud of what I do - customers simplify their business processes with what I write, all buzzwords aside, and so I am content.

I also participate in open source - there are other customers for what I do there, and I am proud of that. But one is not worse than the other.

In the bigger picture sometimes I question what I do. Is sitting in an office writing software as "real" as building a house, or growing corn, or healing people? 9/11 or no 9/11, I think this is what it all boils down to, most of the time, for us developers, if we want to remain proud of what we do - are we doing real, productive work?

Yeah, we are. We, and what we enable, are the best hope for avoiding other 9/11's. I truly believe that.

2002-09-10 14:52:40
Sure It's Important
You know - that's the same feeling I had. It's hard to put your finger on it sometimes, but I agree.

Thanks for the comment -


2002-09-12 09:22:02
Sure It's Important
I believe that if it gets you through the day/night, then it's important - to you. Even if it's not seen as important by other people, it's what you need to do. For example, I see this statement as important (that's why I'm typing it), but you may not - however, if it inspires someone else, then it's succeeded. "it" isn't necessarily just software..

Does that make sense ?!

2002-09-12 19:29:52
Sure It's Important
Yes - it makes sense. Actually, I think you're on to something important here.

I guess we all define what's important for ourselves. You could say that, by definition, "fulfilling" work is work that is considered "fulfilling" by the person doing it.

And if you find your work to be fulfilling to you - then I figure you've got one up on a lot of people!

Thanks for the note -