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The cult-like tech culture.

By wiredog in Op-Ed
Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 07:15:16 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Michael Wolff,the author of Burn Rate, writing in Forbes, compares tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft (among others) to cults, with references to Kool Aid.

What about open source people, though? Are we in a cult?

Mr. Wolff cites:

  1. Lack of free will among adherents (users,employees), a "radical loss of objectivity".
  2. The distinction between "us" and "them".
  3. Round-the-clock working, similar to sleep deprivation strategies in traditional cults.
  4. "no-outside-influences" - tech workers work together, eat together, often live together.
  5. evangelists and gurus
  6. In the cultlike manner of "yours is mine and mine yours": stock options.

Many reporters and columnists have noted that saying anything about, for example, the Mac or OS/2, other than "it's the greatest thing since sliced bread", generated massive flamage. The same thing has been seen with Linux, and is such a problem that a HOWTO (much ignored) has been written. Of course, if one goes to slashdot one will see much of the "us vs them" mentality in action, with a bit of that here, as well. As regards evangelists and gurus, think: ESR, RMS, Linus, Alan Cox, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison.


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Are we a cult?
o Yes, my master 18%
o We bow down before Eris 16%
o Bob is divine 6%
o I would drink cherry kool aid with Rusty any time. 26%
o No, but they are. 31%

Votes: 104
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o Forbes
o Kool Aid
o Linux
o Also by wiredog

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The cult-like tech culture. | 15 comments (10 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Corporate culture (4.20 / 5) (#3)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 10:43:25 AM EST

All large companies have some sort of corporate culture.. IBM put a lot of effort into changing its old-fashioned, white shirt and black jacket businessman image.

I had a summer internship at GE a couple years ago, and while it may be a little less than cult-like, people do feel very strongly about their company. I'm sure many employees' emotional connection to GE is enough to keep them from going to work elsewhere. GE's recent efforts to improve quality in all areas of operation (Six Sigma) create an air of superiority among the employees, I think. Many believe that the thing that keeps them on top is their commitment to quality, the "GE Way." Employees are expected to go beyond what is required of them, working extra hours and assisting other projects as needed.

An emotional connection to the workplace can be very powerful in bringing out the best in employees. I'm sure many companies realize this, and either consciously or unconsciously encourage cult-like attitudes in employees.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.

Every corporation is a cult (3.33 / 3) (#5)
by 0xdeadbeef on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 11:09:10 AM EST

And geez, Forbes is like The Watchtower in that regard. The only remarkable thing about tech workers is the degree to which they believed in it during the Internet "boom".

Sure we're a cult. (4.00 / 10) (#6)
by jabber on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 11:13:51 AM EST

So are firemen, and cops, and doctors, and lawyers, and teachers, and sports teams, and college students... Any definable group can be described in terms of cultist characteristics.

We're also a minority, a social strata, a special interests group, a support group, a clique, a subset of Generation D (tm), a political movement... So what?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Three generations, actually (none / 0) (#15)
by Pseudonym on Fri Mar 30, 2001 at 11:00:10 PM EST

There actually three generations in Open Source/Free Software culture.

There's Generation Jones, who grew up in the 70s, with the Eagles and prog rock and remember with distaste the advent of disco, and were long mistaken for baby boomers. It was the generation of Sesame Street, and battery-powered toys, and the first generation that paid for personal computers (Gen X got them from their parents). The spokespeople of the movement are all Gen Jones. RMS, ESR, Tim O'Reilly and Larry Wall are prime examples. Bill Gates is a Joneser, too, but they don't like to talk about that.

Then there's Generation X, who grew up in the 80s with U2 and REM. It was the generation of Masters of the Universe and Ferris Bueller. Think Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox and Miguel de Icaza. Everyone knows about Gen X, anyway. We're really loud. :-)

"Generation D" is the one after that. It's the one that marketroids think they can woo by using the word "extreme". The fine people at Peacefire are pretty much all Gen D.

There are some notable differences between the three generations, but it's a tribue to geek culture that these differences are accepted. It's probably because geeks have always been different; so long as you're honestly different, you're welcome here.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Not at my tech company (3.50 / 2) (#7)
by georgeha on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 11:54:13 AM EST

<i>Mr. Wolff cites:

Lack of free will among adherents (users,employees), a "radical loss of objectivity". </i>

Huh? Do you mean that I have to come to work daily, and keep up on my responsibilities? And this is different from any other job how?

<i>Round-the-clock working, similar to sleep deprivation strategies in traditional cults.</i>

The only all-nighters I'm planning are for our upcoming baby. While I did work all hours for my company (pager/cell phone) I severly resented it, was paid overtime, and we ended up adding a third shift soon. But this was a on a hotline for a $250,000 printer, for that kind of money, you want support 24-7.

<i>"no-outside-influences" - tech workers work together, eat together, often live together.
evangelists and gurus </i>

Nope, I mostly socialize with family. My overlap between work and socializing is 2 people.

<i>In the cultlike manner of "yours is mine and mine yours": stock options. </i>

My options are so far underwater as to be worthless, the cheapest kick in at $23, while our stock is at $5.

He should interview older workers with families and outside lives before juding like that.


"Round-the-clock working" (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by ucblockhead on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 12:03:12 PM EST

This whole "dot-commers working 24/7" thing is way blown out of proportion. I work for a dot-com and over the course of the last year, I've had three or four 14 hours days, and worked exactly one saturday (to help with a company move). All the rest is just normal days, like any other company I've ever worked at.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Linux reportedly defamed ... (3.00 / 1) (#9)
by Kellnerin on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 12:26:44 PM EST

The rabid zealotry attached to Linux, Apple, or [fill in the blank] is nothing new, nor is it really surprising. Put any collection of people together that have something in common (inhabitants of the same country, fans of the same football team, readers of the same web site) and they'll neatly compartmentalize the world into "us" and "not us". And then I think the argument just gets weaker from there ...

It's nice to believe in things. It's usually only called "faith" when it seems irrational to outsiders, but people still like to have purpose and meaning in their lives. And corporations have long known that the most effective way of getting the most work out of people is to make them believe in the work they're doing. What else is a Mission Statement, other than laughable?

Is Open Source (tm) a cult? Maybe. Free Software definitely so. But not all cults are inherently evil and involve downing a shot of cyanide at the end (I found the Kool-Aid references really distasteful, no pun intended). Choose your gurus carefully.
Somebody go tell Kellnerin it's time for her to change her sig. -johnny

I work in a startup (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by weirdling on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 12:47:21 PM EST

Often, in a startup, there is a feeling of comraderie, but it is also fleeting. We veterans of startups know that the odds of success are low and the odds of being unemployed in a few months are high, so I believe startups are most definately not cultish, according to his definition, but, then, I only work for startups if I can help it, so I guess I am a follower...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
Hrmm... (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by skim123 on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 05:55:30 PM EST

It sound like you want to be associated with being in a cult. Because it's en vogue?

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Cult or Subculture ? 3 Takes (4.00 / 4) (#14)
by Komodo321 on Wed Mar 28, 2001 at 06:44:40 PM EST

Take 1) I have to assume that Wolff is writing yukks to entertain the business suit subculture (the people who cheered when Michael Douglas delivered his "greed is good" line on-screen, who assume that wearing a coat and tie in 95 degree weather is normal, rational behavior). To such people, the blue jean crowd is clearly suspect, and the apparent anti-capitalism of the GNU/Linux group is obvious lunacy.

Take 2) Every profession has elements of a subculture - think about doctors, secretaries, teachers, lawyers, construction workers, etc. etc. And there is plenty of analytic fodder in the caffeine crazed, greed frenzied activities of the dot-commers of the late nineties. But seriously, most business people and most computer professionals are ordinary members of the community. You can stereotype because each subculture has their own tendencies, idiosyncracies, icons, and group-think. But geeks and suits are functional members of society, not members of a mind control cult. Yes, workaholic geeks should get a personal life; so should workaholic suits, politicians, and doctors. Yes, Linux geeks will react predictably if you ask them about microsoft; most suits will react equally predictably if you ask them if they are in favor of more government regulation, higher taxes on business, or communism. Does this make them mindless mono-dimensional drones of the Cult? Nah.

Take 3) Then again, with the economy looking like shit, it is easier to blame the burst bubble on netslaves than on Greenspan, Wall Street, and the overexuberant investors that spewed money on anyone that waved a business plan. Those geeks are so smug - they think they're better than everyone else because they know about computers and math and stuff. And now that NASDAQ has made a drastic correction, a scapegoat must be sacrificed.

Take your pick.

The cult-like tech culture. | 15 comments (10 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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