Why?

March 28, 2022
Why are you reading this? Why do people read what you write?

Why are you reading this?

Joel Spolsky once gave a humorous presentation about, if memory serves, web browsers, but that’s not really important. One component of his talk was asking “Why?” In particular, why do people use web browsers (or any other piece of software)? Essentially, he demonstrated that the Five Whys, taken to the ultimate conclusion, always leads us to “So your selfish DNA can replicate itself.”

Let me demonstrate:

Why is Bob using a web browser? 🠮 He’s shopping for books about Python.
Why is Bob for books about Python? 🠮 He wants to learn a new skill, so he can earn more money at work.
Why does Bob want to earn more? 🠮 He wants to afford a larger appartment.
Why does Bob want to afford a larger appartment? 🠮 He wants his dates to feel more comfortable when they come over for diner.
Why does Bob want his dates to feel more comfortable? 🠮 So that his selfish DNA can replicate itself.

In theory, practically every decision we make can be ultimately traced back to this concept. Of course, there are exceptions. Some of us have no desire for children, or may be beyond child bearing age, or whatever.

The point is, nobody uses software, drives a car, buys a tool, or does much of anything else (outside of sheer entertainment), for its own sake. The real motivation is often so far removed from their mind as to be comical–like replicating selfish DNA.

So why are you reading this message I’ve written?

Why do you write software for a living (or whatever else you may do)?

Why do the users of your software use that software?

It’s an interesting thought. And it has some profund implications, whether its your own motivations in question, or those of the people you influence through your work.

(I probably watched the Joel Spolsky presentation in the late 2000s or early 2010s, and have since spent hours searching for it to no avail. I suspect it’s no longer online. But if someone knows where to find that talk, please send me the link!)

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