The devolution of computing

I have been reflecting a lot lately about the state of computing today.  The state of both the development and the users, along with what drives the majority of people from both groups.  For myself, and anyone who prefers to compute from the drivers seat, the state of things is bad on almost all fronts; at least in terms of mainstream computing.

Computing at a high level in the 70's, 80's, and even the early 90's was much better, because any other users around you were at a high level also.  Almost everyone had real capability to compute far beyond pointing and clicking.  Before the GUI existed you literally had to know command lines, and have a catalog of them in your head at your disposal whenever needed.  There were no guides on websites to copy/paste commands from, which is the peak of text computing skills these days for the pointy clicky imprisoned types.  Even with how far the GUI has come, there are still many capabilities that even the most robust OS's UI would lack.  I have mentioned before that only about 60-70% of the full OS X capability is found in its GUI.  Everything else is accessed from the command line.  It is based on BSD after all.  Text/terminal use is the actual human language of computing, not pointy clicky.  A GUI can only do what it gives you options to click on.  A GUI is essentially just an OS hand holder.  All you need is basic hand-eye coordination, and all it's doing is typing the commands for you while you click away.

The user friendly obsession of MS and Apple software over the last couple decades has truly dumbed down the average user a great deal.  The sad truth is that most people only have the capability to point a mouse, and type in whatever language(s) they're literate in.  The even sadder truth is that some actually mistake this for having computer skills.  Some even go as far as to think such skills qualify them to "help" someone else by sharing their "experience".  Experience based on nothing.  When you can only compute at the level of a person that many would consider computer illiterate, then you have no experience to give. 

I'm sorry, but moving a pointing device around, and being literate in your language, is no type of computer "skill".  People who compute at that level need to keep their devolved computing culture to themselves, and focus on learning new ability, rather than trying to spread devolution.

The devolved ones are on some insane mission to spread their 'newer/faster hardware is always better' illogic, and follow Apple or MS blindly.  No one needs help to do such things, because all it requires is no thought.  Anyone can do that.  Give people true technical insight, not what they can get from a wikipedia or google visit.  If that is where you're getting your "experience" from, then you've turned yourself into a fake, and a redundant fake at that.  Pretty shameful.  I assume the goal was never to be a double negative, but that is the end result for some of you.

The people who spread such things know who they are and they need to stop.  Your blind follower no skill thinking is a cancer to anything that resembles good information.  Stop it please.


I am sorry if some of this sounds mean, but every word I have written here is nothing but true.  The truth shall set you free, as the saying goes, is as apt with computing as it is with anything else.

Anyone who feels the desire to help others, needs to first do it with something they can help with.  Something you have legitimate experience, knowledge and insight with.  Not something you wish to, but don't yet have, those qualities with.

Don't pretend or devolve.  Learn.

Stop letting billionaires control how you compute, and keeping most of you in a limited and fearful of evolving type of state.  The very reason most of you don't want to evolve your computing skills is that you've been conditioned to think that computing and real brain work don't go together.  Essentially a mainstream/self-induced computer user lobotomy.  That is the true end result of decades of user friendly obsession by the mainstream.


  1. Very well said. I always appreciate your take on things.

  2. I think it might be a little more complicated than you make it out to be. One of the selling features of the original Macintosh when it was released was that it had no command line. This was to free the computer from being an obscure tool of the priesthood to being a tool that an average user could use to become more productive in whatever that person was skilled at.

    The problem is that companies like Apple and MS leave so much of the power hidden where few users can find it. They want to make their users dependent upon them, so that they can continue to sell solutions for things that aren't really broke, only hard to access.

    I think the end users are not guiltless however. Worryingly they seem to be very complacent. When the computer companies stopped making paper manuals, no one complained. When bugs became standard issue with most software, users just accepted it as having to be that way and continued buying buggy software. And now that companies are making games that require a full time internet connection to play even in single player mode, it would seem that too many users are accepting that too, dooming us to a future of rented software for which we will continually have to pay money, but never actually own the software.

    In the end, its up to all of us "power users" to keep talking about these issues. It's not just about users who aren't learning. It's also about all of us users who aren't being allowed to learn, because that will take away someone's business.

    1. Any method that emphasizes the no thinking/learning aspect will encourage devolution. The point is to have a balance of easy and not so easy. Not all GUI and not all text. A balance.

      Any tasks that don't need to be harder for capability shouldn't be. Any tasks that require a command or two for better results should be done that way.

      A better, more thorough, more capable method is better whether it's harder to learn/do or not.

      I understand that most don't want to learn anything beyond operating a mouse, but it they choose that devolved path they shouldn't try to bring others along with them. Many PowerPC blogs and posters on forums with PowerPC users have people writing to encourage devolution. They certainly don't call it that but it is.

      How anyone could ever desire a dumbed down method for someone else I will never understand.

  3. evening,
    (long time reader first time commenter)

    i would contend that there are more power users today than at any point in the past. they are simply a smaller proportion of the overall user base. this isn't a bad thing and you cannot hope to put the genie back in the bottle.
    But look at things in a slightly different way. I'm a bad cook. But I am not starving. I can cook. But if i want some damn good sushi i go see a professional. He has the (more or less) same equipment as me, just steadier hands and a hell of a lot more skill. Does he bemoan the fact? by the way there are probably more sushi chefs on the planet today than at any point in history, simply due to the population explosion over the last century. But as a proportion of overall global population?

    I'm not trying to use a straw man argument or anything i hope i am just putting your overall point into a different scenario to see if it holds up as a logical thesis and I really dont think it does.

    keep writing and experimenting fella, i love trying to keep my old G4 lampshade up and running

    1. I understand the power users have grown but no where near the amount of the novice.

      My point is that the user friendly obsession of the developers and the novice user has had a big part in the demise of the percentage of users with more ability.

      Also, power user is hardly a term I would ever use. Some would consider a common graphic artist a "power user" but I wouldn't say so.

      Fully liberated computing skills include text skills. I would never consider someone with no command line ability any type of "power user". An ape or a child can take a mouse and click on things. Even in 2013 and forever text based computing will always be needed to do everything hardware and software is capable of. A gui can only give you the ability it gives you with what buttons and menus it has. If a desired ability is there but doesn't reside in the gui you then need text to access/utilize it.

      Text computing will always be here and those that don't get that are essentially giving all their computing rights and future abilities in the hands of the mainstream. Sad.

      It's not just with computing though. The general state of humanity has devolved in many ways when it comes to learning. We have more info around us than ever but it's all served up on a mindless spoon with no effort or real understanding behind what people take in. People need to experience something to get any true mental scope of understanding.

      The youth in the computer culture will read something from a google search and think they know about it then. Even though there is nothing to base what they just read on. An empty fact is not learning.

  4. (okay, this got pretty rambling. sorry in advance)

    interesting rejoinder. just for my understanding, your point is that by developers making things more user friendly for novice users and that novice users want this there has been a detrimental effect on (i'll use the phrase, sorry) 'power user'. this is somewhat widened by the way that instead of learning for themselves people have information served up or is learned by rote. In many ways this is a fair shout. Education here in the UK has for many years been moving away from the 'rote' method of learning (much to the chagrin of older people) and more towards self development backed by consistent testing of standards. in my own opinion there is much to be said for rote learning, at least at a young age, in order to put in place some fairly solid tentpoles for future unstructured learning. the good old three r's - reading, writing and arithmetic. I digress, wildly.

    Anyway, I said 'in many ways'. here comes the bit where I disagree and then we start a pointless fight on the internet where eventually one of us claims the other is worse than the Nazis.

    I find what you are saying to be elitest. I'll bet good money you dont mean it to be. there are different levels of skill and different subsets within skills that make people (I'm going to do it again). you consider that those with command line level of skill to be people who truly know how to use the bit of kit in front of them. With the greatest of respect you couldnt be more wrong. I'll go again with an analogy. consider a formula one (or indy car if thats more your thing) team. its all about pushing one guy over the line first. to get there you need guys who know the hard math; the manufacturing blokes who know material science; the renaissance man who can dream up that extra 1% aerodynamic edge that makes all he differnce; the ruthless person who will sit in a cockpit and put the rubber to the road. Neil Armstrong (this just came to me) described himself as the tip of the spear.

    Computing is like that now. its an ecosystem of different people doing different things. the graphics artist who expertly airbrushes madonna unless she looks like a 25 year old human might not have much of a clue as to how the hard math that was used to develop photoshop comes about and it doesnt matter a damn. he is a power user.

    Being able to programme straight to the metal isnt the only thing. today, there are more options and more roles that people can fit into. the guys who 20 years ago would have gravitated towards the command line stuff now have more options.

    I could go on. but long tale short you have nothing to worry about. just because the guys who first started using the printing presses bemoaned that the younger generation werent printing as many bibles as they should and the hoi polloi were using the printed word for lapping up salacious tales it didnt stop bibles being printed.

    whew, ... must stop

  5. I think you're missing my angle a bit here. I do not at all think that user friendly computing hurts existing power users. My point is that it restricts the creation of new ones.

    The other real point I am making that you seem to have missed also is that people with novice skills helping spread that type of thinking. Like little warriors for the restriction of other but without that intent.

    I have seen on so many occasions a person (young and old) finally grasp one very tiny aspect of computing or working with hardware then turn around and act like they can help the world. It happens a lot.

    BTW... I can promise you I would never call you or anyone a Nazi other than maybe Hitler. :) Why people ever started using that as an insult I will never understand.

    As I mentioned above I think your understanding of my points is a bit off. Also, I certainly don't feel elite even if it comes off that way. It's simply me living in a brain where I cannot relate to 95% of computer users today.

    I don't choose to think the things I write about in this article. They are simply the results of what I see and read around me.

    Much like in medieval times, the people in charge prefer to keep those they have command over in as simple and afraid of a state as possible. What might happen if their faith or knowledge steers away from that is the main barrier to freedom and personal control.

    Imagine how much better the computer world would be if the "power users" stayed the majority like it used to be. Windows might not even exist. MS might have just been an application or game company if one at all. Apple certainly never would have seen the success they have. When people lock themselves into user friendly skill-wise then they're stuck there forever till too old to learn.

    There is nothing at all wrong with wanting things as simple and basic as they can be but to desire that for another is a bit immoral unless they desire the same. The simple and easy path should only ever be a choice. Never a suggestion unless they specifically ask for the simplest.

    Most tech writers talk down to their readers in a friendly way. I talk up to them in a forthright and sometimes a bit rude manner so as to truly get the point across. Kindness is a good thing but it's no multi-tool for getting points across to the masses.

    I hope this helps shed more light on my stance.

  6. Fair, reasoned and pleasant conversation. Is this the dawn of a new internet ?
    When we break it down quite a bit, like we have, I don't have any real problems or objection with your position. To me its a fair bit idealized but if we dont try o exceed our grasp then whats the point in even trying?

    I work with a lot of people who are barely computer literate. I dont blame them for being frightened, or seeing whats in front of them as a glorified typewriter. I'm terrified of ladders for crying out loud. I can work with that and will teach them a bit at a time to work a little more effectively so they can do their job a bit better. Sometimes I have to be pragmatic and teach them to carry out tasks by rote, without any real understanding as to what they are doing (things like running macros, using vlookups and the like in excel). If I'm lucky i have the time , the teaching style and the pupil to be able to impart some knowledge to give them a deeper understanding about what they are actually doing.
    But the harsh reality is that in the workplace its not my (or anyones)job to teach people that sort of thing. God knows its cost effective in the long run to do it but in the world of 'what did we produce today' economics it is never gonna happen.
    In many ways that makes me the unwitting little warrior for restriction but trust me when you are sat with someone who puts "literate in all aspects of MS office " on their CV and they have never seen a pivot table in their life then you quickly lose any illusions.

    Anyways, keep fighting the good fight and keep my damn lampshade running !


  7. I do tech support for an ISP. I work with computer illiterates all day. In fact, the scariest thing I can hear on the phone is that someone is a "network engineer". It's a sign that they will think they know far more than they do. (And let's not get started on the number of people, typically women, that think that hearing a woman answer the phone means that they've gotten the billing department by accident.)

    I don't assume that anyone needs to know how to operate a computer to do whatever it is that they do. I don't care if someone just knows how to move the mouse around and doesn't want to even learn how to use the simplest keyboard shortcuts. It's okay by me. Those are not the people with the curiosity that will make them look into the guts of their computer or learn how to use the command line. New geeks are being born every day.

    But I will say that I have worked with some of my customers over the years that did want to learn more. And I've seen them get more confident and competent over the years. And I think that is a good thing.