Strangely Consistent

Theory, practice, and languages, braided together


The above list is of course idealized, and the events must not occur that clearly or in that order. The world is messy, and it's possible to 'level up' according to a very personalized path, and with vastly different speeds.

An interesting effect is that whereas it's more straightforward for beginners to access the levels in the order stated above, the reverse holds for contributing to the different levels. You're more likely to push something to CPAN than to patch the perl compiler, and contributing to the community is something you do just by submerging yourself in it.

Because the first three levels are completely dead and consist only of ones and zeros, it's easy to forget that one is dealing with humans at all. One might stumble into the community layer with a dead-things mindset, and say things that wouldn't be acceptable if they didn't take place on the Internet, where expectations are that everyone might be a jerk.

Far too often, I see tweets on this form:

People who [engage in practice X] should be {hanged, drawn and quartered | shot on sight | [etc]}

That kind of rage is only possible when we forget both that practice X (for most values of X) is only configurations of ones and zeros, and that the people who engage in it are indivuduals just like us. Yes, it's hyperbole, and we don't mean actual shooting on sight — but the mere fact that we're casually formulating this thought is worrying. Or should be.

Zen Buddhism talks about the perceptible world being an illusion. As programmers, we know that we're dealing with castles built of virtual nothingness, and still we are prepared to lose our temper over exactly how they're built. We get stuck sometimes in the illusion projected by our machines.

The community level is where the least amount of code gets written. From the perspective of programmer-minded problem solving, it's the most abstract and ephemeral level. From the point of view of people, places, and things, it's the only level that actually exists. If all the other levels went away but the community remained, we could still do great things. If all the other levels remained but the community went away, there'd be no-one left to notice.