In this podcast, Seth discusses the purposes of an operating system and what we need to do to make it work for us.
The operating system is a series of rules, approaches, and ways that software can work with one another. If we are going to create an operating system that we want others to adopt and use, we have a lot of responsibility. If we need to work with an operating system, we need to understand how it.
Cities are one of the oldest operating systems in the history of humanity. A city is built on a series of rules. Without those rules, the citizens would find it very difficult to live within that city.
Stewart Brand, the founding editor of the Whole Earth catalog, pointed out that, if we look at a map of Boston from 1750, 1850, and 1950, the buildings all changed. Interestingly, the roads remain largely the same. The roads connect all buildings to one another and define the operating system of the city.
If we were to create an operating system of something, we would be creating a platform that others can plug their ideas into the platform and make the ideas come to life or become better. Like many other successful ideas, a successful operating system makes a significant profit by defining the rules.
There are three ways an operating system could be defined. It can be closed. In a closed operating system, the maker of the system makes all the rules like Apple’s iOS. It can be completely open, like the Linux operating system, where we can see every line of code or even compile our version of it. The third way is somewhere in between the first two.
For an operating system like a city, many rules are not governed by nature. People need to come together to define how a city work. Many decisions for a city are related to public work. Transportation is a critical decision area for many cities as they try to determine where to build roads for cars and tracks for trains. Citizens of the city began to make choices.
For many technologies we work with, we do not have many choices for operating systems. Unlike a piece of software, if we do not like a piece of software, we can buy another. But once we have committed to an operating system, it becomes much difficult to separate from it. Most operating systems are closed by nature.
Systems do not last forever as other newer systems and technologies continue to push forward and impact them. Open systems tend to be more flexible and resilient. Closed systems tend to be less flexible and more prone to be hacked or disrupted by more clever or superior solutions.
What we need to do is to take a hard look at the invisible operating systems all around us. Those operating systems of our future could very well be creeping up around us. If we are not seeing them, we cannot define them or push them to be better. Or worse, those operating systems may not work with our best interests at heart, and the results could be done to us without us being able to make another choice.