A commenter writes, in reference to my letter to the Microsoft
BTW, I think abrogating to yourself the status of MS’s worst
nightmare might be seen as presumptious, considering that FLOSS
depends on a big community, and a lot of what FLOSS is about precedes
your 97 work, but far be it from me to try to teach ESR strategy.
Um. You meant “arrogating”, I think. A few words about that…
Well, duh. Of course the open-source community predates
me and is much bigger than any one individual. I’ve done more than
most to point that out, I think, asserting our continuity clear back
to 1960 and the SPACEWAR hackers at MIT.
I’m Microsoft’s worst nightmare not so much because of myself as an
individual but because I’ve served as a public focus and embodiment of
the hacker community’s values. And (this is the nightmare part) I
sold them to Wall Street. I broke us out of the geek ghetto.
I try not to have a big ego about this. I’m well aware that if it
hadn’t been me in that role, somebody else would have done it. It was
time in the late 1990s. OK, to be honest I think without me
the open-source transition would have happened a few years later and
with less up-front awareness, but it was going to happen; long-term
trends in the underlying economics guaranteed that. I may have been
the first to understand and publicize those trends, but that never
gave me the illusion that I created them or that they wouldn’t have
operated without “ESR” pushing.
In fact, having been the key man at one or two pivotal historical
moments, I’m in an almost uniquely good position to plump for the
“times make the man” theory. Yes, I supplied some individual vision.
But I absolutely do not think of myself as indispensible and never
have. Because I’ve felt the tide of history sweeping me forward, and
I know that the hacker community created me.
This is something that is hard to talk about without sounding
mystical. I sometimes feel almost as though I’m a sort of sense organ
or mirror that the hacker community grew in order to see itself more
clearly. To the extent I ended up “leading” or became a culture hero
in that process, it was because the community desperately needed
someone to do it and pulled me into the role, shaping me to fit
in the process.
Cultures need culture heroes — and they’ll create ‘em if they
don’t pop up spontaneously. Note: the process can be damn rough on
the candidate. And being the focus of so many peoples’ dreams and
aspirations is…well, it’s terrifying at times. I used to have a lot
of contempt for rock stars who couldn’t handle the pressure and fucked
up with drugs. Now I understand better. I’ve been through some
awful, heartbreaking, soul-destroying shit on this job.
But let’s look on the positive side. I guess the most important
point I want to make is that my success doesn’t belong to me alone but
to all hackers, every one of us. I never forget this, and I hope no
one else will either.