I don't like computers
Welp, I kinda gave up waxing personal on this blog a while ago, but what the hell, why not make an exception once in a while.
So in the last couple of years I've been thinking about work and stuff a lot. For a while there I wondered if I was getting burned out; after all, I've been doing kinda-sorta-approximately the same job for about a decade now, and it can be stressful at times.
So I've been keeping an eye on that and avoiding too many long work days and all-nighters and stuff, but no, I don't think that's actually it. I think what's going on is, well, the post title:
I don't actually like computers any more.
I also suspect I'm not the only one around here.
That could come off wrong, though. So let's look at that in a bit more detail.
I still actually really like my job, if I let myself just be absorbed in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute detail of it and don't think much longer term than that. I enjoy digging into bug reports and figuring out what the crap's going wrong. I enjoy most of the code work I'm doing these days, heck, even the bits that involve Perl, more often than not. I don't enjoy blocker bug meetings, but I can hack it.
But here's the thing: somewhere along the way there, I kinda just totally lost any inherent interest in what I'm doing it for.
I started out with Linux and F/OSS because I was, well, a kid who liked tinkering with computers. I spent most of my spare time either reading books or messing around on the internet - and for all you kids out there, this was the 1990s internet, when 'the internet' was mostly email, usenet and FTP, and you accessed it over a dial-up modem that cost 2p a minute and got yelled at by your parents when you stayed online all night downloading all six megabytes of the Quake shareware release...
And I enjoyed that. It was fun. It was a hobby, in and of itself. And, you know, I got 1990s computers. And early 2000s computers. I was jacked in and surfing the wave, maaan. It was gonna be the year of the Linux desktop real soon now.
Somewhere along the way, in the last OH GOD TWENTY YEARS, we - along with a bunch of vulture capitalists and wacky Valley libertarians and government spooks and whoever else - built this whole big crazy thing out of that 1990s Internet and...I don't like it any more.
- I don't watch videos on computers.
- I barely read Twitter.
- I don't listen to podcasts.
- I don't Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or Vine. Or...any of those things.
- I don't Netflix.
- I don't Spotify.
- I don't Uber.
- I don't have or want an Alexa. Or a Google Home. Or a Sonos.
- I don't want my light switches connected to the internet.
- Or my fridge.
- Or my thermostat.
- Or really anything except my computer.
It's not fun any more. I'm not against all these things, necessarily. But they don't make me excited. I don't want them. I just don't really care. Computers - including cellphones, tablets, whatever - aren't my hobby any more. I don't stop working and then have fun fiddling around with my computers or doing stuff on the internet. I stop working and I want to go do something which doesn't involve the internet at all. I like sports. I like reading. If I play games, it's mostly Nintendo games which absolutely are not online. I like concerts. I like eating out, in old-fashioned restaurants. I like sitting on buses and going places. One of my major criteria for buying things is whether they can do their job without a network connection
I use computers for...well, I use them for reading stuff. That is, actually reading it. Text. Pictures if I have to. I use them for figuring out how to get places, and for buying stuff. And that's kind of mostly it.
I run Fedora on a bunch of computers because, I mean, it's kinda my job; I get to spend lots of funtimes keeping my desktop and two laptops and a FreeIPA server and a mail server and a web server all running. But I don't really enjoy it. I hope they keep working and as long as they do I leave them alone. When they stop working and I have to fix them I feel vaguely resentful. It's not fun. It's work.
I dunno where I'm going with this. I don't have any big thesis. I just wanted to write it down. Like I said, I still love the hour-to-hour, day-to-day process of making Fedora. But...I don't have some burning reason to be involved in it in the first place, any more. It's not 1996 any more. It's not the year of the Linux desktop. It's never gonna be the year of the Linux desktop. It's never even going to be the year of the desktop ever again.
Now it's just what I do...because it's what I do.
Nope, that's not it. I don't really 'like' open systems any more, in the sense of having a passionate interest in their wellbeing and being excited to do stuff with them that I don't have some kind of obligation to do. My passion projects, these days, rarely involve computers.
Mid-30s. And yes! E-readers! E-readers are great. E-readers and noise-cancelling headphones. I'll take those from the last 20 years or so, thanks a lot.
Yeah, I rarely take my laptop anywhere except to conferences. I don't have my phone hooked up to IRC any more. I spend enough time at work. There's interesting stuff happening everywhere else! You only get to see it if you don't put your virtual office in front of it all the time...
It's not even quite that straightforward. I know just where the margins are - after all, I spend all my time working in them. I work on Fedora, for Pete's sake - we're only just now getting all our crap off of Trac. We still do just about everything on mailing lists or IRC. Heck, in Fedora-land I'm a wild-eyed dangerous progressive type because I'd quite like us to try one of the open source Slack-alikes.
It's not that, though. I know just where to go if I want to do stuff with computers which isn't all Appley-Googley-Valley-2.0-y, and that's what I do for work all day. But, still, I don't have any particular personal investment in that outside of work any more. It's just, somehow, not the most important thing to me any more.
Not at all. Maybe it's even the wrong question. I don't need it to keep motivated to do my job. It just means, when I'm done, I'm not gonna spend the rest of my evening wondering if I should switch mail servers. Or buy some IoT crap and spend the next two months setting it up, so I don't have to get up and walk six feet to the light switch. Or answering forum posts, or reading mailing lists, or any of that stuff. It means I go watch some stupid TV instead, or go for a swim, or go watch a show, or...
I've never, at any point in my life, spent even a second thinking about my 'career'. I do a job.
Don't worry about it! That wasn't my intent at all. If you're a software developer you have an interesting and challenging job which, if you're doing it right at all, pays you very well relative to just about anyone else. That's a great place to be!
One thing I should make clear: this isn't a sadface post. As I wrote, there's no big 'thesis' here. I'm not in some kind of existentialist crisis. I'm perfectly fine with this. It was just a case of understanding it and recognizing it: the reason my response to 90% of the tech news is 'meh'.
But I don't sit here drowning in pools of my own tears. It's fine. I do my job and then I go do something else.
"Is a comment this long allowed by the CMS?"
Of course it is, it's Wordpress, it allows everything. Poke at it for five minutes and you could probably read my emails :P
That's a cool story, and thanks for writing it down! It's great you found something that really excites you. Since this is my blog, I get to ramble for a bit, and say that I'm kinda interested by how not interested I am in VR. Like, I have absolutely zero interest in even trying it out. I think this is partly just the 'old codger' factor: there comes a point where you kinda feel like you know how stuff works and you'd just like it to stop changing, thanks. At least, that's how it is for me. In small part it's because I'm frankly terrified of what staring at tiny, very bright, high-resolution screens a very short distance from your eyes for long periods of time is going to do to your eyes after a few months or years. And other than that, it's something fuzzier...something about drawing a clear distinction between things that are real and things that aren't. A kind of uncanny valley of the mind, if you will. The older I get the more I seem to care about this distinction. As I kinda mentioned in passing, I don't play big, online, complex games any more; the more modern gaming came to be focused on multiplayer, and particularly on group tactics and, for want of a better word, 'social' aspects, the less I wanted to play them. When I do play games I tend to play, well...like I said, Nintendo games. Which for me is shorthand for intentionally abstracted, simplified games. Usually single player ones. Very specifically and intentionally not real ones. Again, I can't totally articulate this. I just think it's...interesting. I want my reality real and my unreality very clearly not real.
But again, thanks for the story :)
Nah, I don't think it's that simple at all. It's far more nuanced. It was never going to work out that the nerds got to keep networked computing all to themselves for all time, and use it to exchange the same five in-jokes about Star Trek for the rest of eternity.
In many ways things are much richer and more diverse now. People are doing all kinds of interesting stuff with the technologies available to them, and that's a good thing. You can have all kinds of interesting debates about the politics and even the ethics of certain things, but I don't really want to talk about that. Looking at the big picture, it's good that people who aren't inherently interested in the technology itself are using it to do interesting things.
It just happens that I personally am not that interested in a lot of them, because I'm kinda conservative at heart. That doesn't mean I'm right and everyone else is wrong, though!
For you it sounds like a good idea for sure, if you can find an interesting alternative. Assuming you don't like having a boring job - which sounds weird, but I know some people who do.
That's not quite the case for me, though. It seems like no-one believes me, but I'll keep saying it - I do enjoy my job! It's a great job. I'd probably be a lot less happy if I was, as Jeffrey Hammerbacher said, "thinking about how to make people click ads" (though I'm not claiming to have one of the best minds of anyone's generation :>), but that's not the case.
I think Jon (below) is more on my line of thought when he talks about having a job scheduling trains. I mean, I could totally have a job scheduling trains and be happy with it, and take pride in the trains running on time and not crashing into each other stuff. But it wouldn't be my passion. I wouldn't be doing it to fulfill my lifelong ambition to schedule trains for a living. I wouldn't go home and play Train Schedule Simulator till 2am. It's just that.
In a strange way I'm actually happier than I used to be. Not caring so much can be liberating. I care about doing a good job, just in the inherent way most people feel about most work: if you're going to do it, you might as well do it well. It's nice if Fedora and Red Hat do well, in the way it's nice if my local sports teams do well (only more, because if Red Hat do well, I get more money too...) But I don't have any of my, you know, emotional well-being tied up in it. I used to care a lot that the Good Guys weren't Beating Microsoft. I used to care a lot about when the year of the Linux desktop was going to come. And now I really don't, and that's just fine.
See, I think that's kind of a difficult position to defend. On purely practical grounds: it is, still, realistically impossible for everyone to 'follow their passion'. And (to get on a soapbox briefly) I think one of the more dangerous articles of faith in current popular culture is exactly that idea, because if you tell everyone they can just follow their dream!, then you're inevitably going to wind up with a lot of disappointed and angry people down the road.
But beyond that...all I can really do is offer personal experience, but you know, I've done quite a few jobs, and never really been unhappy about any of them. I've delivered newspapers, stacked shelves in a library, stacked shelves in a bookshop, worked in a supermarket, and done some stints on phone support. None of those things is my passion. But I didn't mind doing any of them. You can find interest and value in pretty much anything if you keep an open mind about it. I deliver a newspaper, someone gets to read the paper. I get to ride my bike around the neighbourhood. It's fine.
Everyone goes to the supermarket, and you don't break your neck on the oil someone spilled on the floor and you get the stuff you wanted to buy and none of it is expired and so none of it kills you (hopefully). You don't really think about any of that, but it's someone's job to make sure all of those things happen properly. It's not rocket science, but hey, someone's got to do it. What's so great about me that it shouldn't be me who mops the floor and faces up the milk? Nothing much. So I did it, for a few years. You get to know people. You provide a service, and you can take a bit of pride in doing it well. Nothing wrong with any of that.
I guess, I dunno, I guess I like Terry Pratchett's take on it: following your dreams is all very well, but basically if it's indoor work with no heavy lifting, you're doing pretty well.
Also can't stand Kipling. Give me some Byron or some Heaney or, hell, some e.e. cummings will do fine. But Kipling can join Wordsworth (not that they'd get along) and the pair of 'em can bog off somewhere I never have to read either of 'em again. :P
Prestige?! Where do I get me some of that? :P
That's really not what I was getting at at all...but thanks for the note. :)
Nope, and I don't want to - that's never been quite the vector of my interest (I didn't start out writing code, and only really do it incidentally; I can write okay Python and Perl, but if I have to fix anything in C it takes me all day and doesn't interest me at all, all the faffing about with stuff higher-level languages just take care of for me triggers my 'this is bullshit' instincts, not my 'ooh, this is really interesting' instincts).
But again, please take the post at face value: I wrote "I still actually really like my job" and I meant it. I'm totally fine with it, as a job. The post is more about the wider...culture, I guess.
"Perhaps we should strive to not need computers?"
This is definitely a part of it, yes. In fact a lot of people get to that point after a while: after you've worked on software for a while, your favourite kind of patch is the kind which just deletes a bunch of stuff. Getting rid of bits is great.
Of course, there's always a catch-22: I've been trying to kick all PHP-based stuff out of my setup and do as much web-y stuff as I can with static generators, but of course, moving from Wordpress to a static generator is itself a bunch of work, especially if you want to keep comments intact. So I've got rid of ownCloud, but I still have WP.
In general, though, yeah: get rid of what you can, simplify what you can't get rid of, and automated everything you can.