9 February 2007

EBD defined

I find to my surprise that I’ve not posted here before about EBD. So, here goes…

Over the years I’ve noticed that people who are exposed to Emacs for an extended period of time become unable to use other software. I don’t just mean that they refuse to use other text editors; I mean that they cannot tolerate any non-Emacs interface for any task.

They read news in Emacs. They read their e-mail in Emacs. They can’t use a simple pager to page through their manual pages; they use Emacs, and insist on rewriting man pages as info documents. They use Emacs to assemble and play MP3 playlists. They can’t even use a web browser; they read the web using Emacs w3-mode.

Try to get them to use another piece of software, any piece of software, and you’ll be treated to a lecture on how it isn’t like Emacs, and Emacs is much better.

I call this curious affliction Emacs Brain Damage. It’s a stiffening of the brain cells, an inflexibility of thought caused by excessive Emacs use.

Users of other text editors don’t seem to have the same problem. You don’t see vi users complaining that they can’t possibly read e-mail using mutt or pine. You don’t get BBEdit users refusing to touch iTunes. Eclipse developers don’t use it to read Slashdot.

EBD sufferers will often try to explain away their condition by claiming that the Emacs interface is simply the optimum way to interact with a computer, for all possible tasks. It’s not that they can’t use other software because they are inflexible; it’s because Emacs is simply a better interface than all other software.

I emphatically reject this rationalization for a very simple reason: when I first started using Unix, I used Emacs. I only switched to vi years later.

It’s also worth noting that the RSI sufferers I’ve encountered have almost all been heavy Emacs users. Famous Emacs hackers like jwz and RMS have suffered from RSI. Some Emacs users have written extensive notes on the technology they’ve had to use to enable them to continue to use Emacs. I think that demolishes the “Emacs is simply superior” argument quite nicely.

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