Mutual Aid

The socialogist Kieran Healy writes on her blog about how a rental car entrapped her into embaressing a stranger.

Back in 1984 one of the things I noticed about the Mac/PC dialectic was that the PC community was entangled in a network of mutual aid. This ran from the seemingly minor detail that no moral could use the system with out a community of people to come to their aid continously thru to a bewildering industry of bandaids and keyboard overlays to aid and abet the suffering users. That entire community – banded together in common cause to make the whole thing even marginally usable.

The Mac threated this. It threated the people who sold the bandaids, and these
were the people I first noticed because they got angry. At a glance they could
see how the Mac was going to put them out of a job. In an instant they suddenly discovered they didn’t know how they were going to
send their kids to college.

That was just about the time I became interested in economic displacement.
That’s the process were market or technology shifts pull the rug out from
under populations, communities, and cultures.

The second thing I noticed about the Mac’s impact on the emotional life of
people in the PC community was the way it threated that culture of common
cause. But this one didn’t manifest it’s self as anger. This one unfolded in a more subtle way.

The scenario that Kieran outlines would repeat it’s self over and over again.
The PC person would helpfully offer aid. “Did you know that if you hit the meta-coke-bottle-P you can fry the foozle!” I’d be forced to explain, that “Oh
thanks, but that’s not a problem for me.” Helpful person: “If you set the auto save, here let me show you.” Me: “Oh, very kind, it autosaves automaticly, fact is you there isn’t even a setting for that.”

Each one of these exchanges would embaress the helpful person, and hieghten the divide between the Mac and PC community.

Finally I noticed that in the Mac community the smooth nature of the
experiance meant that we didn’t develop a culture of mutual aid as robust
as that in the PC community. No gild of helpful IT guys. No sense of solidatiry
against a common enemy – our beloved machines.

From all that I came to believe that in designing a product you want to
walk a fine line between smooth and rough. The rough edges create a place
for community’s of common aid to appear. In their absense your users maybe
happy, even loyal, but they aren’t linked to each other latterally across the
market.

These days I’m reasonably confident that latteral linking is the source
of a huge amount of clever activity that is incredibly valuable for the
product. Clearly in the case of the PC it was a part of what made it so
difficult for the Mac to displace it. The Mac didn’t have to displace the PC,
it had to displace the PC community.

Imagine now Kienan’s discomfort. She rents a car. She is a stranger in town.
A native of this place offers her aid. The presumably helpful car arranges to
compound her outsider status. Worse yet it threatens the native’s community of mutual aid. You gotta love technology!

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