I looking into the local Linux Users Group a few months ago, going so far as to join their mailing list and contribute via email a bit. I read up on LUG meetings and the various groups around the country, and much to my chagrin, discovered that I’m about 15 years too late. It seems that the groups are not just waning, but mostly gone. The ironic bit is that the tool which grants Linux its popularity and proliferation is the same that strangles its face-to-face groups.
Once upon a time, LUGs would meet to swap disks, install new distros, ask questions and troubleshoot each others’ problems, and socialize with those who shared one’s interests. With the Internet (particularly high-speed services such as DSL and Cable), however, we no longer need such face-to-face interaction to meet those needs. Questions can be posted to listservs, forums, and chat rooms, and along with the rise of wikis, we can find what documentation we need quickly and easy. I’d like to blame Google because it’s cheap and easy, but there are myriad reasons the LUGs have died.
This topic only comes up because I was required to join some listservs last week for Banner. I’ll receive a digest (presumably daily) of the discussions occurring around a variety of topics related to Banner and the four specific modules I signed up for. The Internet’s a wonderful thing, but it certainly allows us to abstract ourselves from humanity to the n’th degree quite easily. A listserv is more interaction than reading a static webpage, but it strikes me as even less than emailing a person directly; the listserv is faceless and easy to ignore. It certainly differs from calling, or walking down the hall to talk to a person, or going to a conference to discuss these matters.
It’s not like there’s anything to do about this trend, and I don’t necessarily consider it a bad thing. Personally, I prefer the convenience and instant-response of most web applications; if I need information, I search for it and find it. My quest is more dependent [now] on my own abilities and determination and less on whether someone is willing to get with me or not. I don’t have to go anywhere to find the information I need; it’s already out there. The catch is that someone, somewhere, has to have done the work to make it available.
We are, in a sense, more interconnected than ever before; more reliant on one another providing what knowledge they have so that we might find it. Instead of a LUG of 20, we have millions to whom we can potentially go for help. Yet this connection is so abstracted that we are in danger of forgetting that humanity exists outside the walls of our offices and homes. When do we draw a line and just go to the park for a while, or spend time with our old friends?
Hopefully before we spend more time waxing philosophical about these subjects than we do engaging Life.