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Not Your Mother’s Linux

The continuing adventures of a new open source tinkerer who comes to realize that we embrace — or eschew — change for reasons that aren’t always dissimilar.

The Linux Gadabout

As someone who’s primarily used Windows since the early ’90s (with some minor dabbling in OS X), I’ve found Ubuntu MATE Linux to be pretty intuitive during my month or so of casual experimentation. I would even go so far as to say it’s been easier to figure out than recent iterations of Windows — which I hope says more about how clunky that old operating system has become and less about how woefully incompetent I might be with computers.

I have a confession to make — one that will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read this column in the past. I’m not really a computer person. My mother would disagree, but she’s never owned a computer — no matter how many times I’ve tried to get her on board for the admittedly selfish reason of being able to communicate with her in a fashion that avoids phone companies and post offices. She insists it’s because she “doesn’t like to type,” but I know her mistrust of technology goes far beyond computers (and if I got her a tablet, she’d be annoyed at the endless invasion of fingerprints — a complaint to which I can relate).

mother linux
Mother may not like Linux today, but there’s always tomorrow.
[Photo credit: Craig Howell]

She didn’t have a VCR until DVDs were already in view on the horizon. When I bought her a DVD player one Christmas, it was still in its box when the holidays rolled around again the following year. (Lest you think I’m a completely horrible son for not installing it for her upon opening, I live a couple of thousand miles away.) She’d rather wrestle with a television antenna (remember those?) for spotty reception at her place in the boondocks than the new-fangled interface of a Chromecast for a clear picture and comparatively countless program options. She prefers being tethered to her land line over the versatility of owning a mobile phone because she doesn’t like the idea of others being able to bother her at their leisure. Telling her it’s easier than ever to simply ignore or even block unwelcome callers from a mobile phone doesn’t help sell the idea, either. That’s not really the point.

I would love it if she were more like Ken Starks’ neighbors and willing to go out on a limb for new technological options and experiences, but I’ve come to accept her hesitance as just another facet of her character. Not a flaw, per se, but an endearing obstacle I expect and live with. As I know it’s folly to attempt taking my cat for a walk around the neighborhood on a leash, I don’t try to force my mother into expanding into new tech territory — supervised or not. She’s got to slowly warm up to the idea on her own terms. As someone who lived in the same town for most of her life and worked at the same job, I shouldn’t single her out for not wanting to adapt to technological innovations that might make her life easier — she just doesn’t like change.

To her, I probably seem like WOPR-hacking, WWIII-instigating David Lightman in 1983’s WarGames. To most of you I’ve met here at FOSS Force, I probably seem like Mr. Magoo — blindly and blissfully plodding along my merry way, avoiding certain disaster only by the accidental mercy of chance. In my own estimation, I’m somewhere in the middle — admittedly closer to the Magoo side of the spectrum, but not entirely helpless. I won’t say I’m immune to the fears that change might bring to the table, but I’m also excited to find out what I’ve been missing. Being an aspiring computer person (or at least hobbyist) carries a hint of adventure with a slimmer chance of cholera than, say, jungle exploration. My old Sony Vaio is the only one really in mortal danger from the trouble I invite from tampering with forces (FOSS or otherwise) beyond my ken.

I associate change with a relatively risk-free journey toward learning something new. My mother seems to associate change with uncomfortable life disruption that can just as easily be avoided in favor of something she already understands. She lives by the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” maxim. And because maybe I’ve never mentally outgrown the 12-year-old boy who still resides within, my attitude is more akin to “If it ain’t broke, maybe I’m just not trying hard enough!” When viewed from either perspective, it seems like the opposite party is the one truly resistant to change.

Perhaps the day will arrive when I can get my mother set up with a simple computer and feel confident that some version of Linux will serve her better than whatever weirdness Redmond deems fit to throw in our direction via a future version of Windows. From a very limited experience with Linux and decades of using Windows, this is my observation (which is probably obvious to most FOSS Force readers): the open source approach seems much more attuned to giving us what we need — whether we’re comfortable with change or not. Proprietary interests generally have an obsession with simply forcing change for the sake of change — and to keep us buying the next latest and greatest thing.

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