JavaOne - X - Catharsis and Denouement
In his book A Different Universe, Robert B. Laughlin writes, "In the world of computers one begins to confuse play with work, work with play, and business activity with fundamental meaning."
Visiting the Jeckyll and Hyde city (as Timothy so aptly describes San Francisco) has always provided a measure of insight for me ... I am a graduate of USF, a great school. I have attended most of the JavaOne celebrations since 1996, an annual pilgrimage, as witness and promoter of the Age of Java and the culture around it. I have been in and out of the city on business more times than I can remember since I first began to make a living in software in the early 1980s ... and I even hitch-hiked through San Francisco in the summer of 1970, while still a rebellious teenager in search of America.
This trip, this year, this 10th anniversary of the JavaOne celebration, has been a particularly insightful sojourn to the city for me, after 35 years of visiting, appreciating and learning from San Francisco.
Please bear in mind that I have fed a personal pro-Sun bias. As I may have stated in previous bloviations, I have admired what Sun Microsystems has stood for and the people who invented it before, during, and after my personal tenure with that firm. In truth, I have probably projected my own desire for â€œgoodnessâ€ onto what I once percieved to be Sun's organization, culture and technologies. But perhaps Sun hasn't changed as much as I have ...
This time it wasn't about the gadgets, as no really new, really cool gadgets were to be found at the Moscone this year. And it wasn't about the latest in innovative infrastructure or tools, because there simply wasn't anything all that novel. This year, after railing against the incipid promotion that passes for marketing at Sun, I have come to the conclusion that it isn't about the technology anymore either.
If there is anything of value in JavaOne, it's the people. It's the kindred souls that gather to schmooze, and learn, and feel a little less alone in what is generally a very alienating world. There is a shared experience thing at JavaOne ... a club of sorts, that one joins by simply showing up with the proper credentials â€“ it's the claim to proper geekhood that no degree or certification or all-night hacking experience ever seems to provide.
JavaOne projects a certain â€œI don't want to grow upâ€ mystic onto the developer community, providing bean bag chairs ala that first collegiate apartment experience, with copious video games and ever-present presumably geek-cool entertainment. Oh, and then there are the technology sessions proper, where programming memes get passed around, and of course the BOFs, which are better. The general sessions, with micro-celebrities galore, help to cement that sense of identity and community and belonging to something greater than yourself. A technologist's Brigadoon ... almost.
In the end, it's a hollow substitute for real community. It's somebody else's idea as to how you should behave, think, feel, play, recreate, consume and ultimately, work. Despite the missed opportunities, I still want to believe in what I once projected onto Sun --- but I think I know now, that was me. That was never Sun.
Sun is not church. It's not faith. It's not country. Sun Microsystems is a 'C' corporation, organized under the laws of the State of Delaware that trades on the NASDQ under the symbol SUNW. The theory of the firm suggests that the company's primary responsibility is to return value to the owners (the stockholders). That's it. End of story.
Java doesn't â€œLOVEâ€ anybody. That's nonesense. It's very poor promotion that stoops to such slogans. It sure doesn't sell anything to anybody, and is therefore a vapid waste of resources. I suppose the people providing the promotional stunts for the show made a living for a few days ... to that extent, some â€œsocial goodâ€ was accomplished. But ... it was as ill considered as were the Java condoms, the Age of Participation theme and the hypocritical handwaving about fixing any number of social injustices via technological innovation.
Still ... it's the people; the relationships that are fostered and grown based on a technology-based identity that are as meaningful and rewarding as any moveable feast based on computing. Not family ... not congregation ... not even community ... more like friends. With wings.
JavaOne: one part Rorschach Test, two parts Kant's â€œding an sich,â€ shaken, not stirred ... topped with a splash of catharsis. Happy Birthday Java.
Note for future events: If you are going to go to the bother of raising the curtain on a new age, at least make it an age with something meaningful to offer ... I want to be inspired, not just included. I want motivation, not a membership card. How about leading in an Age of Virtue? Or serving in an Age of Abundance? Or commiting to an Age of Responsibility? Next time, have the courage to usher in an Age of Meaning ... and perhaps a lot more people will line up.