When i was growing up there was this television show called "you can't do that on television". With a brilliant name like that, how could you go wrong? it's ironic and rebellious all at once. It was also the best part of the show, which was aimed at young people and featured all sorts of staged hilarity featuring well manicured kids.
The name has always stuck with me as it is indicative of how much of our lives we spend considering what we can and can not do and then doing or not doing based on that. There's good argument for having these do's and do not's; most people agree that having some basic law and, hopefully due to that law, order.
The problem comes when we hold ourselves rigidly held within those lines at all times. Several things seem to come of that:
We stop ourselves from taking risks that would otherwise lead to great events and successes. It is often said that young people accomplish such amazing things simply because they don't know that they can't do it. Of course, their older and wiser peers know full well you can't ... until some young whipper snapper comes along and does it. This is why in creative projects people must be free and able to do things they don't know they can't do as much as they are encouraged to do the things we know they can; which is similar to saying that creative endeavors should be guided but not tightly controlled by the older and wiser.
(Life, by the way, is a creative project.)
While giving a presentation on kde this year something stumbled out of my mouth ...
(Most of my presentations are written as a loose outline; i fill in the words as i present; as a teenager i used to compete in the extemporaneous speaking category at speech festivals: great fun. Due to this method of speaking things will from time to time just stumble out unexpectedly even to me... keeps it interesting for everyone, i think ;)
Anyways ... i said that kde, and indeed all good free software projects, enable people to dream things into being. We don't say, "we don't have the research budget for that" or "that's too risky of a project to undertake in that department, so forbid anyone from working on it" or "your manager thinks you're nuts". (If you know of a free software project that does that, they have issues.) We don't have any of that sort of oversight; we do have oversight but it's more of the guiding-and-negotiating and selecting-from-the-results rather than the ten commandments and pink-slips-on-friday sort. We don't try and predict and plan everything that will happen, instead we build systems that will result in the creation of the sorts of things we want; less five year plan and more guided opportunism.
Linus Torvalds recently said in an interview that no closed, proprietary model can keep up with this way of working. I would (surprise!) agree.
There are also other problems with rigidness, namely that it invokes the double whammy of sensationalism worship and charlatinism if left unchecked.
When nobody can loosen their collars then every little blip event that is ludicrous gets attention and everyone lines up to get play the role of aghast by-stander. So it is that people buy magazines full of stories of people in movies and musical careers, or just plain rich, that are completely inconsequential. Do i really need to see picturse of so-and-so running down a beach with who-is-that and a picture of that guy falling down while dancing in a tropical club because he was partying too hard after breaking up with ... *deep breath* you get the picture. The answer is: no, it's useless inanity.
The charlatans show up around the same time to prey on people's self-imposed inability to think outside the box. The lines are already written for them: a smart persons says this, a leader says that and a person you trust looks like that guy over there.
So there is a balance between order through law (both of the governmental and the societal sort) and hardiness of creative allowance. When that balance is transgressed in either direction we don't do as well as we could as a group of beings trying to get along together. I live in a place and time where we have too much rigidness of rule and the effects are all around me and my fellow community members to see.
When people can wander through life with eyes wide open and boundaries of the possibilities less clear cut, then with the most simple of reasons to start doing great things will come of their lives. When someone writes something sensationalistic few will care because we no longer jones for the shock and the brawl: we are the shock, we are surprise, we are the dreams we want; instead such muck raking becomes the juvenile exercise it really is. It's also harder to take advantage of a group of thinking individuals than a herd of just-abide-by-the-rules people, so those who take advantage of such a group tend to have a harder time of it.
We do need some rules, though, right? Of course, the question is whether the rules are imposed as external guides or whether they are based within our own selves and emerge outwards; whether the rules are everything or simply the contract of support between us while we do everything else we do. More than anything, such mechanics require a certain level of respect and trust. (Which is probably why we don't tend to see these kinds of dynamics in large random collections of people, such as nations.) It also requires the creation of a sort of immune system that rejects too much imposed rigidness as well as those who would take advantage of respect and trust. Perhaps counter-intuitively, such a group often needs to be much stronger and hardier, even hard nosed at times, than one hemmed in neatly by the impassive and immovable tyranny of rules.
I've been reading some of the stuff that's been going on inside the free software community lately, both the exciting and the disappointing, and the interesting and the concerning. I've been reflecting on how kde itself works and how it doesn't work. how KDE e.V. manages and doesn't (on that one: release times are really hard on the e.V. since we're also the people doing the releases; I have very little time these days for e.V. issues, though that will change in January).
Here are my thoughts, which i share only to share. What anyone does with them is not up to me =) personally these are things i want to make a greater part of my daily walk ...
We must spend less time gawking at the ill informed sensationalist's scratch pad and more time listening to the people doing the actual and interesting work; even if they are amazingly quiet at times they can be still be heard rustling through the internet. =)
We need to learn how not to rise to unnecessary controversy because more often than not its simply people purposefully creating unnecessary controversy to achieve what they want, be it attention from the crowd or a decision that would otherwise not be reached with happy faces and cool heads in play.
We also need to be able to identify the necessary controversy and get behind it. I loved how one guy blogging about ASUS needing to comply better with the GPL ended up causing an effect in such short order; it was a necessary controversy, and one in which the other player fell in line with because it was the right thing to do. Amazing how often that happens when we engage through reason and passion rather than direct by cold law alone.
We should continue to embrace .. no .. we should embrace even more every wonderful person who dares to actually make something. They are worth 1000 people who talk, even those who talk really, really well. It only takes one person to write a book about how great the pyramids of Egypt are, but it took a nation to build them.
Celebrate those we need, not those we need few of, because it is those many who give us everything we have. As a bonus: they are also us, and, well, it feels good to be celebrated. more people deserve to be celebrated than get the opportunity to be.
Confronting things with healthy skepticism is fine, but allowing skepticism to be eroded through the weathering effects of change-for-the-better when it occurs is wisdom. Also, be tougher when someone pushes expecting us to fall back simply because they push or throw a tantrum. The challenge, of course, is knowing when to do which. This is the point of guidance and discussion, as opposed to full on chaos.
Remember to tell more jokes. Smile more often. Enjoy the smiles of others. Walk more. Bikeshed less.
When it comes to bodies such as KDE e.V., they must be enablers of all of this, not something that reigns over and controls. If it begins to alter the mood of the project or adjust the direction of the project through mandate and methodology, it should rethought. Instead, our legal foundations must be just that: foundations for the project. A foundation is constructed to the needs of the building that will be placed upon it; yet it is the building that those who use it and rely on it will actually see and appreciate. No one wants a foundation, they want a house or an office. The foundation is a necessity only.
I'm warmed by some of the things we have accomplished in the e.V. and some of the things that we are so near to accomplishing.
I'm happy that kde 4.0 is nearing release, as difficult a process as it seems right now. In 2 years it will be an experience to remember, reflect on and learn from, but hardly the moment of critical importance it is to us all right now.
(I remember telling my sister in the car coming back from Seattle after a particularly bad, bad day where everything that could go wrong did (twice), "In five years we'll look back at this an laugh." I had no idea how we'd manage that, because nothing about the day was funny; yet years later we did indeed laugh about that day. Mostly because of how absurd it all was.)
This is not to say that 4.0 is unimportant; it's immense. It's just not the end of the world, the project, life or poorly written television shows. I regret the latter only.
I'm impressed by the efforts going on to get licensing in order in the KDE codebase with the GPLv3 such an issue these days.
I wish it was easier to achieve the changes i can almost taste, be they in the KDE e.V., the kde codebase, the kde community or Trolltech's community interface ... all of which have so much growing yet to do. But i know it takes a nation to build these things and enough time, blood, sweat and tears put in alongside the joy, beer, laughter and hacking. We're part way there, and the shape of the thing is already amazing. We are leaving a mark on the world that will stay on the landscape for centuries with this free culture and free technology thing.
I was raised with the mantra "you can't do that in life" in front of me every day. Fortunately I had afternoon television shows that taught me that such phrases are not true, they are comedy.