Taking away my tools

Over the last decade and a half I’ve relied on four tools for making my thoughts.

Of these four, two have broken in the last couple of years: Adobe Illustrator and WordPress. These two tools have undergone frequent deep UI changes, which have obsoleted my skills. When I try to use them now, I’m too busy thinking about how to use the UIs to concentrate on the ideas I’m attempting to develop.

Yesterday, I found out my hosting service is upgrading their server and it is going to bring down my Wiki, my core tool for organizing what I learn in my reading. I chose to host my own Wiki so I could control this key tool and not be subject to the whims of developers, but now they’ve caught up with me and ruined this tool, too. Now I only have one thinking tool left intact, and that is my own philosophy.

It’s funny; this feeling of vulnerability is exactly what led me to philosophy in the first place. When I was a kid living at home, my father was fond of informing me that I owned nothing — that he could take any of my possessions away any time he wanted to. My parents were always threatening my sister with taking away her horse if she didn’t toe the line. I saw clearly that I could not tolerate that kind of exposure. I figured the only thing I had that could not be taken away were my ideas, so that was what I made my treasure.

Stupidly, I have relied on tools under other people’s control to help me shape and craft my ideas, and when those people decide to exercise their whims to disrupt my ability to use these tools, my most precious capabilities — the things that help me be who I am — are jeopardized.

I’m halfway considering throwing out all my software tools and re-training myself to use just pen and paper to work through my ideas. While I’m at it maybe I’ll get rid of all my books and kick my awful caffeine habit. I can’t trust other people to even understand what I need, much less to actually respect the legitimacy of those needs, much less to act in a way that doesn’t harm me. And supporting those needs is entirely out of the question. What I need seems unreasonable to other people. Nevertheless, I need what I need, and that means I must reduce by dependency as well as my exposure. I think this is the root reason so many thinkers are ascetic.

My next post is going to be a theoretical tantrum on the ethics around that miserable love triangle between developer, tool and user. I am convinced that the “ownership” of software is an unrecognized moral crisis of our times.

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