Monday, May 30, 2005

Chris Dent asks Why Wiki?. He raises the important distinction between automation and augmentation.

Automation is trying to get computers to replace what people do. Augmentation is helping people do more.

I'd echo Chris's sentiments almost word-for-word. I also want to build tools to augment humans rather than try to replace them. Of course, augmenting human capability often requires automating repetitive chores. Email replaces the postman with machines.

But this distinction is good to keep in mind.

And here's the SDI angle. "Smart Disorganized Individuals" is my mantra. It reflects my aspirations as to what I want to make, or rather who I want to build tools for. Who do I want my software to empower in society?

Let's look at that last word : "individuals". I want to make software for individuals. What I mean is, I want to make software that helps people express their individuality. That helps them to solve their problems. That helps them to work better on their own terms.

What I'm sick of, is writing software for institutions. I'm sick of software that one person commissions for someone else to use. And which has features designed to oppress. I'm sick of software that's designed to impose uniformity on a workforce. Sick of software designed to police your actions. Sick of software that helps keep people under the thumb of their managers. That tries to turn the public into a mindless audience.

The good news is, I don't think I'm alone. Every day on the internet I come across people like Chris, who want to "augment" not "automate", who want to build cool stuff that people can really use to do their own thing.

There are plenty of the other sort too, of course. Companies who sell software to other corporations, designed to turn their employees into deskilled, replacable parts : call-centerization, content management with workflow modules etc.

But I think the individualists are winning. Content management dinosaurs are dying out. And smarter, more individual focused software is flourishing. People's expectations are rising. And it's a challenging but good time to be making software.
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