Ubuntu and the Importance of Unlearning

9 May

Like most computer users I’ve had quite a few PCs in my time running Windows and, going back to the early 1980s, DOS. Like many others, I’ve also been a Mac user for decades. And, like precious few others, I’ve even used Unix, primarily when I worked at Sun Microsystems from 1985 to 1990.

Over the weekend I joined a select, but rapidly growing set of Linux operating system users by loading Ubuntu 10.04 on my ThinkPad laptop. It’s way too early for me to make any judgments about the OS. Besides, there are countless online assessments (well, Google counted 86 million of them) discussing which operating system is better, mostly pitting Linux against Windows, including a Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject. And there are plenty of Linux fans willing to trash Windows at every opportunity. There are even folks who have evaluated Linux, Mac, and Windows to determine which is better for big business.

So, don’t listen to me when you consider which OS is the right one to use. Frankly, I like them all for various reasons.

But what I like best about using a different operating system is unlearning the ones I already am familiar with. Unlearning is one of the most exciting things a person can do. It opens the mind to possibilities heretofore unconsidered. And Ubuntu is helping me unlearn a lot of lazy habits I’ve developed when using my Mac or Windows machines.

For example, when you download software for your Mac (my primary desktop computer), unless you tell it otherwise, it goes to your Downloads folder. When I downloaded the Opera browser for Ubuntu I could not find it anywhere. That’s because it went to a place where I had neglected to look for quite a while: the Internet area of my Applications pull-down menu. Automatically locating software on your system by function is elegant. But I had to, ahem, Think Different(ly) than my Mac had taught me. So when I later downloaded a disk burner utility, I knew that I would find it in the Sound & Video area of my Applications pulldown menu. How cool is that?

Once I unlearned an old process and picked up on the new one, I was pleased not just with Ubuntu, but in myself. Unlearning is difficult, as William H. Starbuck of NYU explained in a paper 15 or so years ago. But it’s critical for life’s improvements, particularly in technology, to occur. The fundamental step to unlearning is doubt. He wrote that “any event or message that engenders doubt about current beliefs and methods can become a stimulus for unlearning.”

Skeptics, then, make the best unlearners. If you are a true believer, the prototypical Mac, Linux, or Windows fanboy, for example, you’ll never appreciate the value of unlearning the old while learning the new. You’ll scoff at any different way to use software. You’ll always be happy with what you know. And what you know will always be “better” than what you don’t know.

I am, above all other things, a skeptic. That’s why, in the final analysis, any analysis I can offer of Ubuntu won’t be very useful. I’m too busy enjoying unlearning one process after another.

I will say one thing, though, Ubuntu makes unlearning simple. And, I believe, that was the goal of its developers. So, in that regard, I can say, Ubuntu succeeds wildly.

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2 Responses to “Ubuntu and the Importance of Unlearning”

  1. pererik87 May 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Interesting point of view. Your own philosophy right there. I like it, especially since it educates me. Thank you

    • meh2meh May 9, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

      My pleasure. I’m never certain that what I write connects with others, so your reply means a lot to me. Thank you.

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