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Software And Other Legacy Of The Baby Boomer Generation

If the WW II generation was The Greatest Generation, the baby boomers were The Worst. My former boss Bill Gates is a baby boomer. While he has the potential to do a lot for the world by giving away his money to other people, after studying Wikipedia and Linux, I see that the proprietary development model he adopted has greatly stifled the progress of technology his generation should have provided to us. I start a book with the statement that we should already have cars that drive us around as we have had video cameras and powerful computers for decades. The reason we don’t have robot-driven cars is that proprietary software became the dominant model:

Free versus proprietary software is similar to the divide between science and alchemy. Before science, there was alchemy, where people guarded their ideas because they wanted to corner the market on the means to convert lead into gold. The downside of this “strategy” is that everyone would have to learn for themselves that drinking mercury is a bad idea! The end of the Dark Ages arrived when man started to share advancements in math and science for others to use and improve upon. Computers are an advancement comparable to the invention of movable type and while they have already changed many aspects of our lives, we still live in the dark ages of technology.

We can blame the baby boomers for proprietary software. (We can also blame them for C++ and Java, and I write two chapters detailing why they have been a total disaster for the industry. I recommend everyone use Python today.) We can also blame boomers for outlawing nuclear power, never drilling in ANWR despite decades of discussion, never fixing Social Security, destroying the K-12 education system, leading us to our bankrupt welfare state, and numerous of the other long-term problems that have existed in this country for decades, that they did not fix, and the new ones they created. Linus Torvalds is a Generation X-er, having been born in 1969. It is this generation that is coming into its own now that will invent the future, as we incorporate more free software, cooperation, and free markets into society. The boomer generation got the collectivism part, but they failed on the freedom aspect.

My book describes why free software is critical to faster technological development, and it ends with some pages on why our generation can build a space elevator in less than 7 years. I believe that in addition to driverless cars, understanding DNA, getting going on nanotechnology, and terraforming Mars, are also in reach. Wikipedia surpassed Encyclopedia Britannica in 2.5 years which is strong evidence that the problems in our world are as much social as technical. Let’s step up, work together, and make it happen!


  1. I honestly have to disagree with your Linux-centric view of free software, which casts Linus Torvalds as some kind of you upstart rebel who was the first to stand up to the tide of proprietary software.

    Remember, software was free FIRST, in the 1960s and 1970s. Age is not the distinction between Bill Gates and Richard Stallman!

    • Hi Theo:

      Were you using software in the 60s and 70s? If you got some software from IBM, it came with hardware, and the people to help you run it! AT&T’s Unix was not free, nor was DEC’s, etc.

      I fully agree Stallman played an important role, but it is the Linus generation that is doing the work. I was at a Debian conference a few years ago and it was pretty much all Gen-X and a few Gen-Y. Stallman was a generation ahead of his time. Milton Friedman wrote about how the welfare state will go bankrupt decades ago. He was 2 generations ahead of his time.

  2. Great that you tar all boomers with the same brush. At age 58, I am as disgusted as you are that the corporate interests to such a large degree have won out over those who would have preferred to keep all software open, and preferably free. Greed is a constant across all generations – I guarantee you there are those of your generation that will disappoint you as much as some of my generation have disappointed me. Listen to the song “Aquarius” by the Fifth Dimension sometime – those were the ideals that I thought would define our generation and make us different than previous generations. And now I look back and wonder what the heck happened, and why so many seemed to totally sell out. And when you get older, it is very likely you will either be among the sellouts of your generation (I hope not), or you will wonder as I do what caused so many of your peers to take the dark path.

    Oh, and your kids and grandkids will hate your generation too.

    And really, what you should be blaming are the large corporations. Even though corporations enjoy the legal status of persons (and what generation came up with THAT horrible idea?), corporations have no soul, and to some degree suck the soul out of those they employ. Although there are plenty of greedy individuals, for pure greed and pure evil you can’t beat large corporations. There is a video on Hulu called “The Corporation” (I think, been a while since I’ve seen it) – you should watch it if it’s still available.

    Oh, and don’t you dare blame the K-12 education system on us. That already sucked big time when we were kids. Look how many of my generation follow idiots like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and think the Tea Party is a hot idea – that proves that we were not taught how to do critical analysis in school. I, for one, am truly ashamed of some of the morons of my generation!

    As for C++, I think they recovered that off a crashed alien spaceship or something – what human would come up with something so perverse? 😉

    • Hi Mike;

      The problem isn’t greed. The problem is that people didn’t realize that free software is the right way to build software. There are free software companies fighting for service revenues and such and there is nothing wrong with that. Another problem you boomers have is thinking greed is the problem.

      I checked out that song. What it is missing is any mention of freedom. You can’t have harmony, sympathy, trust, truth, without a free society. Your generation never understood the magic that is the US Constitution as it gives maximum liberty to the individual to pursue happiness. Instead we are burdened with a bankrupt welfare state, and expensive costs for energy, healthcare, taxes, regulations, litigation, education, etc.

      There is nothing wrong with corporations. They are people. Why is it when you make more money that is a good thing, and why if you incorporate that suddenly becomes a bad thing?

      People don’t “follow” Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. They listen to them. If you listened to them, you’d understand the history of the US better, and what is going on today. Rush predicted that the stimulus bill would be a failure as it was passed. Well, was he right? I think you have not listen to Beck or Limbaugh enough to appreciate them. Of course, they are imperfect, as is everyone, but they are both smart and well-studied and entertaining. You just hear snippets and draw conclusions. Many people who have opinions of Rush Limbaugh don’t even recognize the sound of his voice. I wonder if you fall into that category.

      We agree C++ is a disaster! 😉 Garbage collection was invented in 1959, and yet neither C nor C++ adopted it.

  3. The Baby Boomers brought Civil Rights and Woman Rights to the table, and stopped the Vietnam War with a display of Civil Disobedience that no generation since has had the moral fiber to muster.

    You just made my blacklist.

    • Your generation cannot take credit for the civil rights movement. It was Lincoln’s generation that had the breakthrough and made the massive sacrifice and the last bits were accomplished in the early 1960s by LBJ and JFK and others of the greatest generation. I don’t think stopping the Vietnam war was a good thing (it prolonged the Cold War and caused 10s of millions to die by the hands of the communists), nor do I think that women’s movement in the 1960s brought anything good to them. Here is a book about the destructive aspects of the 1960s women’s movement http://www.amazon.com/Who-Stole-Feminism-Women-Betrayed/dp/0684801566.

  4. The problem isn’t greed? The problem is always greed – lust for money or power (there’s also sex but that’s probably not applicable here).

    We had plenty of songs that mentioned freedom, it’s just that I would have thought that was common knowldege. Our generation was probably the most free ever – we had escaped the paranoia of McCarthyism (Beck and Limbaugh would have loved McCarthy) and had not yet really entered the age where almost everything we do is tracked by some computer somewhere. We could leave on a trip and actually be out of touch for a while and nobody called out a search party. Kids could roam the neighborhood without parents worrying, because the media had not yet conditioned them to think there was a child predator behind every tree. You (I’m not going to say your generation, because I don’t know how representative you are) have no idea what real freedom is, and I REALLY feel sorry for the kids growing up in the post 9/11 world.

    I did not say all corporations are bad – you seem to have posted a reaction without reading what I actually said. I get the feeling that it upsets you when someone challenges your preconceived beliefs. You just want to hate on the previous generation, but as with most of the hate that’s being encouraged today by the likes of Beck and Limbaugh and their ilk, it’s uninformed hate. What I actually said was that LARGE corporations are bad. It’s not a case of a good person deciding to incorporate and suddenly becoming evil, it’s the situation where a corporation become so large that no one within the corporation feels any personal responsibility for the actions of the corporation. So they can screw everybody – customers, stockholders, the public, whoever – and absolutely no one in the corporation feels they should be the least bit ashamed of doing so, or that they should take any responsibility to rectify problems – indeed, if they try to do the right thing, they may quickly be out of a job.

    Nobody in their right mind listens to Beck or Limbaugh. They have a loyal following of dangerous nutcases, and then there are people who find their outrageous on-air behavior entertaining. I suspect the latter are the same people who, if they saw someone about to jump off a bridge, would holler “jump” and find it greatly entertaining if the person jumped to their death. The reason I don’t like those two jerks is that they seem to have no clue that their words are causing pain and misery for real people. But then, I suspect you couldn’t care less. I used to listen to Limbaugh regularly when he first came on the air, but as he became more and more outrageous (and hypocritical) I just couldn’t take him any more. Also, I wonder if you realize that most radio personalities have an on-air “schtick” that’s designed to elicit certain emotional responses in their audience. They may fully realize that what they are saying is a load of crap, but if it drives the ratings up they will say it anyway.

    Anyway, I don’t know how old you are, but you write as if you are a teenager who still thinks he knows everything. I suspect you are actually quite a bit older, so that’s no complement. You go ahead and live in your fantasy world, but when you get older you’ll have to reap the fruits of what your age peers are cooking up, and I’m sure that some people of your generation will be as big a disappointment to you as some of mine are to me. I look at your generation and it scares the heck out of me that you have no clue how the world works, but you think you do, and I’m sure the policies you enact when you come into power will come back to bite you in the ass. Karma is a bitch.

    • What is greed? No one thinks they are greedy. Acting in your self-interest is not bad — having a job is what gets people out of bed in the morning. The dream of making a million dollars for someone else doesn’t provide the same motivation as making it for yourself! It is fine that companies try to maximize profits exactly as you try to maximize income. A company that provided a bad product, service, or value has improved or disappeared. In modern American society, the places with the most unsatisfied customers are the places that are the most government control.

      Letting people act in their own self-interest with minimal government interference is the proper way to structure a society. The place to fix greed is in church. Everything in capitalism is voluntary — unlike government. Government is a necessary evil, so it should be small. This was something that previous generations knew of. Check out these quotes by Lincoln about collectivism.

      The problem with baby boomers is they went too far on the collectivism angle. You guys might have been arguing for freedom, but it was false freedoms: freedom from war, freedom from want, etc. The freedoms you should want are freedoms from the government. The typical situation in the history of civilized man is tyranny. The government has been fighting the war on poverty for 60 years and it is worse now than ever before. They always tell us the solution is more government even though government causes the problem!

      There is nothing wrong with a big corporation. You making money is a good thing, and same for corporations of all sizes as well. In a free market, companies can’t screw customers or they will leave. When you have screwed up companies, it is always poor government regulations that caused them. Look at Fannie and Freddie. The thing is that a free market healthcare bill is 50 pages compared to Obama’s 2,000 pages so you don’t need masterminds. Here is an article about healthcare worth reading.

      Beck and Limbaugh don’t cause pain. It is the President and Congress’s policies that are screwing this country. I have heard there is 40% unemployment for black males in Detroit. Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh and so on are being demonized by your media, but they are just journalists and people with opinions!

      I do talk confidently about certain things but that is because I have studied them a lot and because the problems in software, and in our country, have been around for decades. For example, I’ve read Milton Friedman who decades ago described the inevitable failure of the welfare state. He has been ignored by your generation, but under the failures of Obama’s collectivist policies, he’s coming back into vogue. Milton Friedman was two generations ahead of his time.

  5. You know, if your attitudes are the future of this country, I wish someone would just shoot me now. Greed is when you just don’t care what happens to others as long as you make money. So what if people are destitute, sick, suffering, etc. – you don’t care because as long as you are making money you figure all is right in the world. Maybe you’ll even donate a few token bucks to charity now and then so you can feel good, but really, you don’t give a damn about other people.

    You say, “In a free market, companies can’t screw customers or they will leave.” Than that would be true IF we had free markets in the United States, but we don’t because the big corporations control the government, and make sure we have controlled markets (and in some industries, virtually no competition). There may be free markets in limited areas but government policies are trying to kill them as fast as possible.

    If our current president had stuck to his ideals – the platform he campaigned on – we’d be in a much better situation. The Democrats have a majority and they have squandered it. The thing that most disgusts me is the way they didn’t do health care reform effectively (that is to say, no public option). I’d have welcomed even Canadian style healthcare (having lived on the Canadian border for several years, I know that it’s not nearly as bad as some make it out to be, though there are certain parts of their system that could work better). Instead we have a system that basically tells the poor to fuck off and die, and I’m not sure that the watered-down program passed by congress will be much better. I know you probably think that even what they passed is socialism (which to you is probably the devil) but at least it could have been something that many people (not you, I’m sure) would support on compassionate grounds. Now if the Republicans get a majority in Congress they will probably try to kill the whole thing and therefore the poor and uninsured will continue to die because they can’t afford health care.

    By the way, don’t think I am saying that Democrats are wonderful and Republicans are evil because I’m not – in the end, I think virtually ALL politicians are lying bastards that would sell their grandmothers for dog food if they thought that would assure them of being re-elected. The rare exception doesn’t last long. One thing I have come to realize is that our system of government truly sucks – and if it’s really the best system the the world, that explains why the whole world is so screwed up. Still, other developed nations seem to take much better care of their citizens than we do (with a couple of exceptions – wouldn’t want to live in England, for example).

    The biggest laugh I got from your post was when you said, “The place to fix greed is in church.” I found that amusing for two reasons. First, most greedy folks either don’t go to church at all, or they go to a church filled with others of their own social status (and, dare I say it, race) where their greed it never challenged. You won’t find these folks in some downtown church where people have to deal with real problems in their daily lives. And second, some of the greediest people in the world are the clergy. For every Mother Theresa there are probably a hundred ministers that preach two or three sermons a week and maybe do hospital visits one day a week, but expect their congregation to provide them with a fine house, a big car, and a nice fat paycheck. The only rich people in the ghetto (if they still use that term) are the pimps and the preachers.

    Besides, what about those of us whose beliefs are not represented by a particular church? I have come to believe in reincarnation (as did many of the earliest Christians, by the way) but most churches are still calling that heresy, despite the fact that scientific evidence is accumulating that reincarnation is a very real thing (admittedly many scientists refuse to recognize that evidence, but I’m not sure how much of that is because they are afraid of going against the beliefs of the church and/or the people who fund their research). I’m not going to argue this point with anyone (everyone is entitled to their own beliefs) but I will say that if I ever do come back, I hope I am NEVER reborn in this country, at least until people here become a lot more enlightened than they are now (something to think about: If those that believe in reincarnation are correct in their belief, at least some of us boomers might be reborn as your children and grandchildren, who will have to make decisions about what happens to you in your old age!).

    I find it interesting that you advocate minimal government and yet in the next paragraph you think freedom from the government is a bad thing, and then in the NEXT paragraph you talk about “poor government regulations.” I’m trying to mentally picture what your ideal government would look like, and I can’t figure it out, given that it seems to change for you from paragraph to paragraph.

    Anyway, you just go on thinking you have all the answers. Here’s a suggestion: Save this page to a file somewhere with a notation to your future self to open it and read it in 20 years. I wonder if you will be as embarrassed by it then as I am now when I read some of the crap I was writing twenty years ago.

  6. My attitudes for the free market are the future of the country, because they are also the attitudes of our founding fathers, Adam Smith, etc.

    The problem with greed is that it is a thought crime, and it involves predicting the future. Is selling a greasy burger greedy if someone has a heart attack one day? Is Bill Gates greedy? What if someone does care about the suffering but doesn’t do anything that day? You generation has a mess of thoughts about greed.

    Furthermore, focusing on “greed” is no way to organize a society! If you had read Milton Friedman, you would understand. Here is a short video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A&feature=player_embedded)

    I agree that we don’t have a free market enough in the US. Well, the problem is fixing government, not fixing “greed”. The whole reason we don’t have a free government is because politicians got to power saying they were going to use government to “right every wrong” but actually make things worse!. It is a vicious cycle that has been taking place for decades (New Deal, Fair Deal, Square Deal) that you have not been noticing. You act as if we don’t already have a welfare state. We do, and it is bankrupt.

    Adopting Canadian style healthcare would be a disaster. The way to fix healthcare is to focus on lowering costs. Why can everyone afford a cellphone now compared to 20 years ago? Your generation is filled with class warfare and collectivist ideas that you are missing the big picture.

    I advocate minimal government. A tax code that is 50 pages, government not providing healthcare, education, etc. It can pay for the poor (not the middle class!), but it shouldn’t be administering it. If you read Milton Friedman, you will understand much more about what the ideal government looks like. I can only mention this giant, you will have to do the reading. (http://www.amazon.com/Free-Choose-Statement-Milton-Friedman/dp/0156334607) You say you wouldn’t want to live in England, but you don’t realize that the difference is that they have more of a welfare state and so the country is in worse shape. You want a welfare state, but not the results — a massive contradiction.

    I will know more in 20 years. But I don’t think that so much of what I know now will be overturned. Whereas I can see that your ideas about many topics could change a lot. My book is about free software, but I spent a lot of time researching whether free software is better for a free market than proprietary software so I’ve had a chance to dig in on these things. You also have opinions on things like Rush Limbaugh even though you’ve not evaluated him for yourself. Perhaps your collectivism causes you to not think so much for yourself either? I would never have such an emotional opinion about someone I didn’t know very well! You criticize Limbaugh for leading sheep, but you are acting like one right here.

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