July 30, 2015
When the President of the United States of America wants to send an email, we don’t close email-space, and delay your email so his very important one can go through. A homeless person in a public library has exactly the same email service as the richest, most powerful person you can imagine. They both use services such as gmail or yahoo, and beneath that are the same SMTP servers. There is no combination of money, power, or personal connections that can secure you a “better” email service. In email, we are equal.
Pregnant Nigerian teenagers and the ruling family of Saudi Arabia use Facebook or Twitter at the exact same service level, with the same user interface. If you want to write a document, you can use Google Docs, which is what Google’s internal teams use during a crisis. Whoever you are, you can use the same tools, for free, as the people who build the tools.
You can raise money on the same platforms as celebrity musicians or basketball players (Kickstarter, Indiegogo). The Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost upwards of $1,500. Today, Wikipedia provides far more knowledge, for free, for everyone, everywhere. You can rent as many powerful computers as you want, for $1/hour (Linode, Digital Ocean). As the joke goes, on the Internet, no-ones knows you’re a dog.
Technology, and particularly software, have been an incredible equalizing force.
If you have $200 for a computer (or much less for a used model), and occasional access to both the Internet and electricity, you can use, for free, the same tools that a 20-year computer industry veteran such as myself uses (Ubuntu Linux, Go). You have access to all the same learning materials as I do. You can participate in the same forums, communicate with the same people, on the same terms. In the words of the Hacker Manifesto: “If it makes a mistake, it’s because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn’t like me…”.
When you stop to think about it, this is unprecedented. Powerful, affluent, in-group people have always had better homes, transport, and food, breathed better air, and lived longer lives, than the less powerful. There is almost no other facet of human existence where we are all treated exactly equally. It is debatable whether humans, in the physical world, are even capable of this.
All this is possible, maybe inevitable, because of the tools that we in the software industry have built, because of the Internet, and the Open Source model. It makes me incredibly proud to call myself your equal.