November 19, 2013


Evengy Morozov


The Meme Hustler





The Gist

Morozov exposes the great many facades created by Tim O’Reilly’s marketing skills.
Specifically, the harmful effects his buzzwords and treatment of software solely as
an economy cause humanity.

The Good

  • The author makes a very convincing case (with damning evidence) that O’Reilly really is a mastermind of marketing who manipulates important issues unfairly.
  • Tying politics into software is a good thing, since most people only tend to care about the price/functionality of software, not the how or why of it.
  • I love reading about Richard Stallman; he is something of a meme and his constant outspokenness is an oft-unseen trait among developers.

The Bad

  • The article criticizes O’Reilly for misleading and glossing over important things, yet doesn’t seem to weigh any criticism against Obama for doing the same thing.
  • Nearly everything O’Reilly does short of his daily bathroom routine is mentioned by the author in some capacity. The author should just call him a narcissist already.
  • He made the manuals and the money, he has the right to do with it what he wishes; so is the gift/curse of capitalism. People can do dumb and destructive things.

The Questions

    • The article talks a lot about the Free Software Foundation but only mentions Linus Torvalds briefly. What is Torvalds’ perspective on the re-factoring of “free software” into “open source”?
    • Do people who care about software from a moral/political standpoint tend to be more passionate developers than those who only care about money?
    • O’Reilly is the only ne’er-do-well really examined here. Who are some other hustlers of political issues?

Politics is, like programming, a discipline that people are very passionate about. With both, people tend to “love it or hate it.” Indubitably, the intersection of these subjects are an even hardcore-er subset of their respective constituents. I generally agree with this, as does the article. It makes the case that O’Reilly does harm to users and developers because he uses his vast influence in the technology realm to essentially do the right thing for the wrong reasons. The manual emperor commands his minions to open development because it’s good for business, not because of Stallman’s legitimate reasons; i.e. that proprietary software harms everyone.

I agree that there is a problem with flying a false flag like this. But this is a recurring problem with human society. Things are sometimes done under the guise of good yet end up doing a lot of bad: See The Patriot Act, the 2009 Bailout, or Obama’s election platform as recent examples. Yet, there is also some good that comes from O’Reilly’s actions. He is a compromise between technology enthusiasts and business that the public can easily get behind, so he’s great at pushing things forward. Also, he did publish high-quality manuals, which have undeniably helped people learn. In fact, we use O’Reilly books in GCCIS curricula here at RIT. So it’s not all bad.

The biggest problem I have is that O’Reilly uses software paradigms to describe an ideal government. While some connections can be drawn, a government cannot function like “open software”. Idealizing government to work this way is great as a metaphor, but, much like comparing a software developer to a mechanic, breaks down very quickly.

The article evokes a sense of jealousy from the author. O’Reilly is successful and the author seems determined to demean every facet of this success. A lot of the criticism is valid, and the article is exciting to read because of the “drama” it creates. But it also reads a tad unbalanced with a dash of snide remarks. Let’s instead talk about how to empower people to do what O’Reilly doesn’t do: make important issues apparent.

Rating: 4/5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *