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By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?)Some Thoughts on "The Man of the Century"

From Brian Schramm on Sat, 11 Apr 1998 on the Linux Users Support Team (L.U.S.T) Mailing List


I think this might interest... It arrived to me without the original sender ID.

The DALnet #Linux has started a movement to get Linus Torvalds voted as Man of the Century. Their idea is to get a massive number of votes for Linus, which would at least get the attention of Linux if nothing else. They estimate that they need about 1 million votes to pull it off.

They've requested everybody to vote for Linus and to pass it along. The category in which Linus is being placed also has a mention of Bill Gates, so we've got some competition. If you would like more information, see the URLs below.
Vote for Linus Torvalds:
Linus as Man of the Century Mailing List:

When you vote the system gives you the present ratings. The category where Linus shows now:

(!)While I have the utmost respect for Linus and feel greatly indebted to him for Linux. I have reservations about this suggestion.

First I have to say that the computer has not, in my opinion, been the dominate development of this century. Although microcomputers are the basis for my career and the principle tool in my hobbies (writing and participating in newsgroups and mailing lists) --- I have to step back and try to achieve a more objective view.

I'd rate the development of the telephone and our world wide telecommunications infrastructure as roughly an order of magnitude more important worldwide. Granted that modern telephony would be impossible without the computer. The underlying importance of the telephone has driven computers in large part (specifically in the development of Unix --- at AT&T Bell Labs!). However, my sense of history suggests that the impact of telephony was already evident before that (when the vast majority of it was run by mechanical relays and even by human switchboard operators).

Despite this I wouldn't even say that telephony is the most important development of our century. I think that broadcast media (radio and television) have at least twice as much impact as the phone. The reason is that telephones primarily extend our ability to communicate and shrink our time scales --- but they are still mostly localised geographically and socially. The fact that the technology allows me to call someone in Japan as easily as I could call the local Pizza parlor doesn't matter much when I have no acquaintances in Japan. The telephone doesn't most of us to really connect with a significantly broader or larger set of associates than were possible with old-fashioned postal correspondence.

Broadcast television has had quite a bit of effect on this country and on most of the rest of the world. The results are fundamentally different than anything that could be have been accomplished by correspondence or other forms of individual association. Prior to radio and television we didn't even have a word "broadcast."

I'd put publishing in the same league as broadcast media for potential. However it is several centuries old. Also its potential has never been as widely realized as broadcast media due to the simple hurdle of literacy. This is not so simple as functional literacy. Many people have sufficient academic skills to participate in our (or their) culture --- but are not affected enough by any publications to really move society. I personally consider television to have had a greater effect on our culture based largely on the sheer number of hours that people spend absorbing its emanations.

It doesn't matter how trite most of the "content" has been --- the fact is that a largely percentage of the world's population has been pacified for an astounding number of hours by TV's and movies (silver screen). I'm not nearly so concerned by what television has caused people to do as how much it may have prevented by its diversion.

Despite the its greater importance I still wouldn't say that television, movies and other broadcast media is the most important development in our century. There is one thing that's had even more effect over more of the world that those.

I think I'd have to give the award to Henry Ford. Not only is the automobile one of the most important and ubiquitous developments of this century, but the manufacturing techniques and organisational structures associated with Ford dominate the world's economy and literally shape our cities.

So, despite the fact that Ford appears to have been anti-semitic and to have held elitist views that would disgust many people today --- I'd have to vote for him for this century.

That brings me back to Linus. I think we just might see the real effects of the FSF and Linux later. It may be that people in 2098 will look back and remark on how the spirit of co-operation that was fostered by Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds (among many others) in the field of microcomputer software fundamentally changed our culture's ethic and economy. We might see radical changes to the publishing industry as more content moves more unto the 'web' (by which I don't just mean HTML carried over HTTP --- but in a broader sense I mean to include the multi-cast communications we see in netnews and on these mailing lists).

This would have to be accompanied by radical solutions to the real problems we face in the world today. We cannot continue to allow our population and resource utilization to grow through another century. In addition the current allocation of natural resources must be rationalized before we can have a better world. If we continue to have less than 5% of the population accounting for 80% of the world's resource consumption and continue to allow individual to rape the land that they "own" and discard it when they've extracted the value from it then most of the world's population will remain poor and miserable (and most of the "developed" nations will see large parts of their own populations degenerate into "third world" conditions). This is not "doom and gloom" prophecy --- it's a simple matter of arithmetic. The question is not "if" but "when" and I think the argument is over decades rather than centuries.

So, if we're still in a position to concern ourselves about a "person of the century" contest ten decades from now, I hope that the standard of living for the rest of the world has improved to the point where we can get more than a .05% participation in the selection process. (There were less than 3 million votes listed in the table that Paul quoted, and that's only 1% of just the U.S. population --- which is about 5% of the world population last I heard).

Who knows, we might then see a bit of national, racial, or even gender diversity in the candidates! (Unfortunately that might take way more than a century).

It's not very likely --- but I'd like to on the next century and be astounded by the spread of altruistic collaboration from software into other endeavors.

While I can't vote for Linus Torvalds as the man of this century I can mark his accomplishment as one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. He might leave a legacy that makes him the man of the next century!

Copyright © 1998, James T. Dennis
Published in Linux Gazette Issue 28 May 1998

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