Thursday, April 16, 2009

Digital Literacy: Comparing iPhone and Desktop Linux adoption

Apple selling many iPhone and grabbing a decent market chunk can't be used to show Linux has somehow failed. Apple convinced insecure and wannabe nerds (and some real nerds too) that a big shiny new gadget will make them look cool. The Linux Community is trying to convince people that enjoy finger painting and story-time that reading and writing are valuable skills that that can benefit you throughout your entire life.

I am sure this sounds like typical fanboyism, but have you ever listened to someones excuses for not wanting to learn to read, write, or learn basic algebra? It is the same excuses: It won't be relevant to the career I want, I get along just fine speaking, that's just for smart people. Well, how is it that Linux can be both demonized for being inferior AND only for the really smart computer genius type. Might it be worth a moment to try and see what they see? Honestly, that is what convinced me that despite the fact that it was HARD, and there were things I had to LEARN or even REMEMBER, it was about communicating, building, developing, and working together in a radically different way. I think it took me about a year to get comfortable with Linux, several more before I really began to see why it is used in all the places that it is, and why people feel so passionately about it.

Some people see a computer as a fancy typewriter for papers, a canvas for painting a picture, and an easier way to send letters and pictures than via snail mail. digital music is just another way to listen to music. For all those old things done in new ways, there is something uniquely special that can be expressed through a computer that isn't just a digital form of the same old thing in a different way. There is something uniquely powerful that enables people to fundamentally work different, and only Linux is where people can share instantly and unlimitedly the tools to express yourself and communicate with the world DIFFERENTLY.

Sure, Microsoft and Apple let you push the button, but just like reading and writing, no matter how good the story is told, don't think that is any kind of substitute. You just aren't talking about the same thing. It isn't digital literacy.

But don't worry, sure I am making a big deal out of nothing. You can already read and write, and computers are really just like books where it is easier to fix mistakes without wasting paper. There are nerds out there that take care of this stuff so that normal people can use them like books. Doubt learning how they work would ever be something worth anything to the 'normal' user.

I stopped paying attention when it went from "The year of Linux" to "The year of the Linux Desktop". Didn't anyone notice what happened in between? Further, The Year of the Linux Desktop was 2004 with the release of openSuse. The Year of Linux was 1997 with the Internet. If you care about being literate in a digital age, you know about Linux.

Wish I had made the effort to learn earlier, but guess just happy to be there. Having been there, there is just no way to explain to an adult illiterate person the value of learning how to read and write. I know it sounds elitist, but it really just struck me today how similar the arguments are. Think about it.

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