A collision of differing worlds

I am going to use computers and the internet as an analogy for people and society. There is a certain irony here since the computing process has been inspired by the human thought process.

Basically, most people think and process information in mostly similar ways. We will refer to them as Microsoft Windows based machines. There are several different version which have somewhat different capabilities, but on the whole, they work mostly the same, have the same basic assumptions of how things are done and if you’ve used/met one, you’ve used/met most of them. The hardware statistics vary, but the way they process information doesn’t vary that much. That is, some computers are faster, but they get the same result in the same way in the end.

Other computers are different, they are apple machines. Each version was mostly a re-write of the very fundamental ideas, but each handles processes in significantly different ways. As such, even though they have the same appearance, and have the same label, they operate quite differently and get valid results in different ways. Someone who is use to dealing in the Windows world will feel very out of place and not really know what is going on, yet the machine works and operates fine in isolation. Apple machines are a bit odd, in effect, kind of like a different culture. They all pretty much work the same way, but it is radically different to what you are use to.

Some computers are Unix based. These linux machines vary widely from each other, and each is built specifically for the machine it finds itself running on. While each Linux machine uses similar assumptions, each differing stream of Linux goes about using and interpreting those assumptions in wildly differing ways. From a Microsoft Windows perspective, Linux machines are much like people who have some kind of illness. Why on Earth would you do things that way, and why can’t you just do it the way everyone else does?

Yet all these machines talk to each other quite nicely on the internet. The web, or you could see it as society, has a set of rules that all machines communicate to each other in. When you create an idea and package it for the internet, all machines can look at that idea and not know that the logic behind how it got there was radically different, or completely the same as, the logic behind the system looking now.

Computers that can not look at and interpret the internet have no reason to ever work in a similar way to others for the specific purpose of fitting in, so become very isolated and quite different in the way they work.

Now that the scene is set, let us see how this analogy works for us people. Most people in the world are Microsoft Windows people. In general you work fine, assume that files are stored and interpreted the same way. On average you have similar enough statistics and software. Some have really fast processes (high intellect), huge hard drives (great memories), awesome graphics cards (visual artistic ability), brilliant sound systems (musical ability) and so on. But they fundamentals behind how you tick is the same operating system – Microsoft Windows. Sometimes the operating system has a problem and we call a specialist to fix it, but mostly it just works. 

Then there are those who are consistent with each other but work on different base assumptions. These are other cultures (and if there were more standardised systems out their than Apple, I would have a better analogy here, but go with it). When we look at the logic of these systems, they are consistent with each other, so you wouldn’t define a specific machine as ‘wrong’, but you may label the whole culture as ‘different’ and ‘needing to improve and mainstream’. Similarly, the operating system just works and those who use it need to make very little adjustment to keep things going. Rarely is a specialist called to fix problems. (And I am aware that OS X.Y is basically Unix these days, but it is a neat standardised package).

The weirdo’s are the Unix based machines. Linux is the most common example of Unix, but even Linux has many different streams (Red Hat, Ubuntu, Gnome etc). Those who know how to tweak the system often spend large amounts of time doing so to make it work. Those who don’t know how to tweak it live in a state of repeated frustration as they try to do the same things they hear everyone else does easily. When people create documents on Linux and try to share it, they find that their file is either not compatible or often misinterpreted by the other peoples systems. The easiest way to communicate is to simplify, which often reduces the sophistication of the system and it’s possibilities down to a frustrating common interface. Then the non Linux Unix systems are even odder and harder to function with.

People who are a not so much of a different specific culture, but work quite different internally to the main stream may sympathise quite well with the Unix computers. We do what we do well, we do it differently and get very interesting and equally right results, but often those who are mainstream think that we are very odd and should just do it their way. Often they blindly try to fix us without understanding that what they are doing is wrong for our system and may cause a nasty system crash. Good professionals learn our individual quirks and work with us in our way so that we can function well enough to provide a good internet interface.

The internet solves a whole bunch of communication issues. The information presented via web pages is universal (mostly), so pretty much any computer system has no idea who is presenting the information, but each person looking at this interface, this society, can understand what is meant by the other. The rules of society must be adhered to, but the logic behind how to create the content is up to the individual computer’s operating system.

Often people think that the operating system is the problem, yet each computer in isolation works fine the way it is on the problems you present it. Each has a good method of displaying information, processing information and interfacing with the user, so long as the user know how to use it. It is when you try to get these systems to try to talk directly to each other that you have difficulties, or when the user doesn’t know how to use the system they are on.

The operating system is not the problem. It is how the operating systems talk to each other that is the issue. If the computer/person, can not communicate effectively to other computers/people, then that computer/person finds themselves in isolation and a great deal of frustration. It can also be the operator/conscious mind trying to assume that the system they are working with is the same as other systems that they can directly see.

For example, try to eject a CD on a windows system. You press the eject button, or in a window/music program, you press the File menu option and then Eject. Simple. Move over to an Apple machine and you either drag the CD icon to the trash can, or you Option Click the CD and choose eject. Both make sense internally, but if you watched one person do it on their machine and tried to emulate it on your different machine, you would be in for a world of woe.

The take home message here is, learn your own system and accept that it works perfectly well for you in the things you want to do. You can learn new things (load new software) that helps you achieve what you want, but the way you learn it (the particular software) needs to be for your system – your way of doing things. Don’t try to emulate how you do things based on what you see and assume others are doing. Yet you must interface and communicate effectively with others. So, learn the rules of the internet/society and use them to present your ideas.

After all, the web is only full of results, not the process used to get there. See their results, show yours.