Home > Computers and Internet > You are not the user

You are not the user

This afternoon Amanda and I were watching Tron. I remember watching the movie about three years ago, and still many different things stuck out to me this time. A very boiled down premise of the movie is that there is a company with a computer system, and the system is slowly being locked down and controlled by the companies “Master Control Program”. The hero’s of the story are trying to free the system up, so that they can do what they want to. I’m watching this thinking “What a horrible security and auditing model”. The security expert in me wanted the hero’s of the story to lose. Letting any program do whatever it wants to on a computer system is why there are so many virus’s and malware programs running around in the wild right now.

There is a very interesting line in Tron that stuck out to me, because it really doesn’t apply anymore. Tron was released in 1982, and it’s about computers, and needless to say some fundamental aspects of computers have changed since 1982. The scene I found interesting is one where there are two programs talking and they’re having a religious discussion about “users”. The discussion is about if users exist or not; kind of like how we might have a discussion about if God exists or not. One of the programs ends up saying “If I don’t have a user, who wrote me?”

This line would only make sense in a world were anyone using a computer primarily wrote everything they used a computer for. Or at least heavily modified anything they used on the computer. I’m sure that world existed at some point, but it doesn’t exist today. Today there are stickers and posters hung up around Microsoft saying “Remember, you are not the user”. Programs are designed by program managers, written by developers and tested by testers. Then once a program is written it’s primarily not even used by them. It’s used by users. The majority of users of programs today are not the ones who wrote the programs.

It’s odd for me to picture a world where most of the programs that the worlds companies and governments relied on, where only used by a handful of people, because all of the software was built in house. In today’s world a lot of the software is written and sold. The vision that Tron was based on is that idea that you can program the computer to do whatever you want it to do. Many nerds (such as yours truly) really likes this idea. Most people don’t like this idea. They just want the computer to do want they want it to do. They don’t want to have to tell the computer how to do it, they just want it done.

So here I am. Happily writing programs, but constantly being reminded “You are not the user”.

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