Newbies get dumped on
I find it really sad that in a community whose purpose it is to strengthen civil society, we treat the uninitiated with such disdain. I understand that part of the Free Software ethic is the ethic of the self-reliant pioneer/trail-blazer. Unfortunately, not everyone can be a trail-blazer. From the point of view of a newbie, it is far from obvious which FAQ or HOWTO contains the pertinent information. A few words of advice from someone who already knows the answer can save a newbie hours of pointless struggle. But the linux guru says "Don't answer that person's question -- (s)he should read the FAQ". I have seen many, many posts on comp.os.linux* which are even more terse and much less polite.
There is a mean-spiritedness growing in the ranks of the open-source movement that is evident in the behaviour of its public figures as well as that of its foot-soldiers. How hypocritical and ironic it is that this mean-spiritedness infects the "gift-culture" of which the Free Software proponents are so proud. Even trail-blazers have inherited gifts from those who came before. Why should they be so unwilling to offer help?
The explanation that I've been hearing lately is that everyone is starting to burn out. The veterans have seen the same questions asked a million times, they've been flamed by idiots who treat newsgroup gurus as if they were personal servants. We've all seen examples of this childish behaviour on the part of newbies seeking advice. But this in itself does not explain the reason for the change in attitude.
Perhaps there is a better explanation. Perhaps it was unrealistic to think that we could impose a gift culture on a community that is as deeply immersed in the culture of narcissism as we are. The burnout is just a sign that maintaining the gift culture within a greed motivated one is extremely difficult. At this point, we might want to step back from our dream and ask ourselves whether it can work without dehumanizing us.
The question each of us needs to ask is this: Do you feel strong enough to endure the idiots in order to help those who are sincere and respectful? The open source movement cannot continue without a majority of its elite answering this question in the affirmative.
A movement founded on sharing must be willing to share with the unworthy as well as the worthy, or else we are just creating a new type of exclusionary behaviour much more dangerous than copyright, patents or trade-secrets because it corrupts our hearts, rather than our laws.