OS/2 eZine - http://www.os2ezine.com
March 16, 2002
Pete Grubbs Pete Grubbs is a self-described OS/2 wonk, a former doctoral candidate in English literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a former part-time faculty member at Penn State and is still mucking about with a copy editing/creation service, The Document Doctor, which tailors documents for small businesses. He has also been a professional musician for 20 years.

If you have a comment about the content of this article, please feel free to vent in the OS/2 eZine discussion forums.

There is also a Printer Friendly version of this page.

Previous Article
Next Article

Do you have an OS/2 product or service you'd like to advertise?

Berating, Bitching, Bickering and Backbiting

If you watch enough US-made war movies, you'll eventually notice that many have one scene in common. It usually arrives near the midpoint of the movie, after all the principle characters have been introduced. When they've been on the screen long enough for the audience to get to know them and to pick out their favorites, they usually start getting on each others' nerves. One minor incident follows another until someone is good and pissed and then The Fight starts. After a few punches are thrown, or maybe a chair gets broken, another character, calmer and more perceptive than the rest and usually played by a supporting actor, gets between the main rivals to break up the fight. This Voice of Reason gets everyone's attention and says, "Wait a minute! This is crazy. We shouldn't be fighting amongst ourselves when we've got the whole (British, German, Korean, Vietnamese, Garden Gnome, take your pick) army breathing down our throats. Etc., etc., etc." The VoR is ultimately successful in quelling the violence, the former antagonists realize the error of their ways, shake hands and go forth to make the world safe for Mom and Apple Pie.

Does this look familiar? It should. It's the dynamic found driving just about every human social group in the world.

Since we are social beings, we tend to clump together, often as a response to an external threat, be it real or perceived. Once we're in these groups, we are in a constant state of tension. On the one hand, we want to maintain our position and membership in the group (after all, being outnumbered is no fun); on the other, we want to achieve our own individual goals, to satisfy our personal needs and desires. We spend the majority of our lives wrestling with this essential tension, often with varying degrees of success.

In the movies I mentioned above, the external threat is the enemy army. The tensions that menace the platoon or company have to be resolved if its members are going to survive and the Voice of Reason can only be successful if he diverts the energy his squabbling comrades are expending on each other back to their common enemy. If he fails, the world is overrun by Garden Gnomes and we're all forced to eat lemon custard while cussing out our mothers. I'm sure that you can immediately see the parallels between our own situation as non-Microsoft users and the characters above, but I'd like to explore the area in a bit more detail.

This Ain't Life and Death

For most of us, the challenges we face every day are not extreme. We're not on the front lines in any battle, we don't face overwhelming hardship and our every decision does not affect Life As We Know It. Our lives and our work are important to us, perhaps to our families, maybe to a few friends and that's about it. We're all fairly replaceable, when you get right down to it, but we still carry on as though we're the center of our own little universe, and that's not a bad thing, really. It's certainly better than not carrying on at all.

We are passionate about our work and we are often equally passionate about the tools we use to accomplish it, including our computers and the operating systems on them. I must confess that I am often amused by my own comments, attitudes and prejudices in this regard. While some people get all worked up about their favorite sporting team, Olympic skater or automobile, I can spend hours discussing the relative merits and advantages of this or that video card, hard drive or CPU and I can get defensive if someone calls my opinion to question or differs with me in a less-than-kindly manner. My emotions do get involved when I'm talking about operating systems, marketing and monopolies or why I prefer Small Editor to Enhanced Editor. In this regard, I suspect that I'm not unlike many of my readers and, to a certain extent, this is a good thing. If we weren't so passionate, if we didn't take pride in our efforts, the overall quality of our work would suffer, if we even accomplished anything in the first place. However, there are times when we all need to step back from our keyboards and chill. Let me offer you an example:

On one of the mailing lists I subscribe to, a rather acrimonious little thread was started by a user I've never met and know only by his posts. A number of his comments went right over my head but one or two remarks were targeted towards another member of our community that I have met personally, albeit briefly, and they seemed inaccurate and inappropriate. This was followed by a response from yet another poster that I'm also acquainted with and have a good deal of respect for. Poster #2 took Poster #1 to task for his remarks and I quietly found myself cheering as I developed a negative attitude for someone I didn't know at all. I was quite prepared to write this fellow off as a malcontent who'd never done anything for our community as a whole and came to the rash conclusion that we'd be better off without him around at all. That is, until I read still another posting from a third person who noted that Poster #1 had been a real asset in his particular geographic region. At this point, I became aware of the thoughts running through my head, and I stopped to take stock of the entire situation as best I could. The result is the editorial you're reading right now.

And the moral of the story is?

I'm not going to sound that sad cliché, "Why can't we all just get along," because I know the answer to it: We can't. The very qualities that make us choose to strike out on our own, with regards to computing chores, virtually guarantee that we won't get along. We will forever quibble over details, point out one another's errors, and generally fuss over anything that annoys us. This is simply the kind of people we are and, properly managed, this propensity to argue is one of our greatest strengths. It is this desire to get it exactly right that sets the standard for the work we produce and the code we'll accept. If we were content to use something half-assed, we'd all be running Windows. If we didn't have a genuine commitment to our work and our tools, we wouldn't use OS/2. If we didn't have a sense that it's us against the World, we wouldn't have organizations like POSSI and VOICE, events like Warpstock and Warpstock Europe or publications such as this one. In short, we wouldn't have this community; we wouldn't be who we are. Still, we also have to realize that criticism, no matter how accurate and timely, needs to be tempered with courtesy lest it do more harm than good, destroying more than it strengthens.

So, where do we go from here?

I think the first thing to do is realize who we are and where we stand. We are, generally speaking, a bunch of computer users who are predominantly IT or IT-related professionals, who have an above-average interest and capability with computers, at least when compared with the normal Windows user. Beyond that, we may not have much in common at all. I've seen OS/2 users at Warpstock who range from early adulthood (20-something) to retirement age and beyond. Most of us are male, but that isn't to say that there haven't been important contributions made by the ladies (Daniela Engert comes immediately to mind). Some of us are hobbyists, some business owners, some consultants. Some are all three concurrently.

Given this lack of homogeneity, is it any wonder we sometimes experience a little friction?

On top of these, we have a number of other hurdles to overcome. The OS/2 community lives in a bunch of different time zones representing a multitude of different languages and cultures, but we spend a lot of our time communicating in written English. As anyone who's ever taught writing will tell you, communicating solely by the written word is a dicey proposition at best, even for trained, talented professionals. For people whose skills favor installing hardware or writing code as opposed to writing letters, it's an even greater challenge. For those who aren't native English speakers, the difficulties increase by another factor of ten. When you throw all of these ingredients together and add a pinch of attitude, you get something my mother would refer to as, 'a real mess.'

It's at this point in the essay that I'm supposed to put on my Genius Cap and tell my readers exactly how we overcome all of these obstacles to live Happily Ever After. Unfortunately, my GC hasn't been brought back from the cleaners yet, so I can't. Frankly, I doubt that there is a single solution to this situation. This may be one of those problems that will only allow itself to be solved one tiny piece at a time, one OS/2 user at a time. While I don't have The Answer, I do have a few suggestions I'd like to throw out for general comment.

Don't trust the written word too far. It's very easy to be mislead about someone's attitude or personality when the only thing you know about him are the words you're reading.

Don't forget that what works for you and your machine may be completely unworkable for a fellow user's situation and not just because he's an idiot.

Don't swear at machinery. It never listens to you.

Don't forget that a mailing list in English may, and probably does, have contributors who don't speak it as a native language. Take that into account as you're reading and as you're answering.

Don't take any of this too seriously. It's like Life; it ain't no how permanent.

Finally, be kind.

In the years that I've been a part of this community, I've watched some discouraging little flame wars rage and I've seen the kind of cooperation and hard work that have made some pretty cool stuff, like Warpstock and OS/2 eZine, possible. As is the case with so many different aspects of our community, we will determine our ultimate fate. We can go down in flames, we can build something amazing together, or we can split the difference and do a little of both. If you have a suggestion or comment to make about this situation, the place to do so is this month's forum; the time to make it is now.

Previous Article
Next Article

Copyright (C) 2002. All Rights Reserved.