I woke up at 6a.m. thirteen years ago on September 11 2001. I was living on the West Coast, and soon started hearing the news coming in on the same clock radio that woke me. I was groggy still, but had a friend that worked in the World Trade Center in Manhattan. A handful of months before this particular morning, she took us to the office that she worked in, and showed us around, and I marveled at the enormity of the structures, how each tower seemed to contain a world within, elevated above a river view that was fantastic, the stuff of city dreams.

The morning was filled with some frantic phone calls. Was she ok? The whole city was in turmoil, and it was impossible to get a hold of her or anybody else. Then came the images on TV; the horrifying iconic images of fire and destruction; people jumping off the side of the building; the towers collapsing. News from the Pentagon. News from somewhere in Pennsylvania. Bad news. Terrible news.

We heard from our friend a day later. She sent us a terse note: she was unharmed, since she got delayed, and chose to go in a bit later than usual. The trains were all stopped, so she didn’t even get in to the city from Jersey. Her workplace was completely destroyed. She lost some coworkers. And her life changed, radically and unexpectedly.

The whole world changed, of course, with different people more affected than others. Immigration changed procedurally, and that affected me personally as a non-citizen, with entry-exit protocols that were often frightening. I had never been fingerprinted before, for example. I was, on occasion, chosen for a random frisking, which wasn’t really random. But all that, honestly, was nothing compared to what others went through. Innocents were bombed, along with many who were absolutely not innocent of violence (collateral damage, through drone attacks, were appalling to read about); governments toppled, and what filled the void still fractures the geopolitical landscape, thirteen years later. Maps have changed in the Middle East, and, to a certain extent, in Central Asia.

Thirteen years later, we’re running bombing campaigns, but this time, on the entity that grew out of the first round of bombing campaigns. While that is a simplification, it isn’t a wholesale retelling. It stands as a simple statement: we’re doing something similar to what we did thirteen years earlier, because stopping military engagement now would be naive. You can’t just stop and wash your hands off something you had a part in creating. A complex region’s government, though horrendous, wasn’t properly replaced with something lasting. This chapter of history absolutely is not done. The mission is most certainly not accomplished.

All this to say, quickly, that I won’t forget how the world was thirteen years ago. Which is similar to how it is now, but arguably worse in some parts. This isn’t a reflective milestone, looking back at a closed book full of a completed history. This is now, and this is ongoing.

The Big Munge

“Give me your email address so I can call you!” she said.

At first, I thought I misheard. She must have have muddled “call” and “write.” So I asked for clarification.

“Whatever. Call. Write. I prefer to call people at their email addresses. Or message them.”

Then I realized that she was referring to a FaceTime conversation, using her email address (an @cloud.com thingy), which she used interchangeably, and in fact, indistinguishably, with SMS/MMS. And I had a series of discomforting thoughts  about the pros and cons of paying attention to extricable components within what I’ll call The Big Munge. By that I mean the grand unified stew of communication protocols and data that Millennials kids these days consumers interact with so differently now, and have so many different assumptions about.

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What is this?

Questions and answers, because my friends and I have been doing a lot of asking and answering, in unequal measure, with more asking than answering. Because I’ve been distraught by the incessant stream of reductionist observations about Mozilla, each one like being punched in the heart with the hard fists of righteousness and conviction. Because questions and answers once brought me peace, when I was much younger.

Who are you?

A man with no titles. Formerly, one of the first technology evangelists for Mozilla, when it was still a Netscape project. A Mozillian.

Who is Brendan Eich?

A man with a title titles. An inventor. A unifier. A divider. A Mozillian. A friend.

What has Mozilla done?

From humble and unlikely beginnings, Mozilla entered a battle seemingly already decided against it, and gradually unseated the entrenched incumbent, user by user by user, through campaigns that were traditional and innovative, and increased consciousness about the open web. It became a beloved brand, standing firmly for open source and the open web, championing the Internet, sometimes advocating politically for these convictions. It relied, and continues to rely, on a community of contributors from all over the world.

What has Brendan done?

Many things intrinsic to the open web; he helped shape technologies used by countless numbers of users, including to write and read this very post. Also, a hurtful and divisive thing based on a conviction now at odds with the law of the land, and at odds with my own conviction: in 2008, he donated $1000 to California Proposition 8, which put on a statewide ballot a proposition to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman in the state, thus eliminating gay marriage, and calling into question pre-existing gay marriages. The amount donated was enough to oblige him to list his employer — Mozilla — for legal reasons.

What are my convictions?

That any two people in love should be able to marry, regardless of their genders; that the marriage of two such people affords all legal protections intrinsic to the institution of marriage including immigration considerations, estate planning considerations, and visitation rights. That this is in fact a civil right. That matters of civil rights should not be put before a population to vote on as a statewide proposition; in short, that exceptions to the Equal Protection Clause cannot be decided by any majority, since it is there to protect minorities from majorities (cf.Justice Moreno).

How do such convictions become law?

Often, by fiat. Sometimes, even when the battle is already seemingly decided (with the entrenched weight of history behind it, an incumbent), one state at a time. State by State by State (by States), using campaigns that are traditional and innovative, to increase consciousness about this as a civil right.

How should people with different convictions disagree?

Bitterly, holding fast to conviction, so that two individuals quarrel ceaselessly till one yields to the other, or till one retreats from the other, unable to engage any longer.

For real?

Amicably, by setting aside those convictions that are unnecessary to the pursuit of common convictions I share with other Mozillians, like the open web. Brendan embodied the Mozilla project; he would have made a promising CEO. My conviction can be governed by reason, and set aside, especially since the issue is decided by courts, of both law and public opinion. His view, only guessable by me, seems antediluvian. Times have changed. I can ask myself to be governed by reason. We need never touch this question.

But I can do this because my conviction about the law, stated before, has never been tested personally by the specter of suicide or the malevolence of bullying; marriage equality is the ultimate recognition, destigmatizing lifestyles, perhaps helping with suicide and bullying. And, my inability to marry has never disrupted my life or my business. I cannot ask others to lay aside convictions, without recognizing the sources of pain, and calling them out. (Here, Brendan made commitments, and Mozilla did too).

What will the future hold?

Brendan has said his non serviam but calls out a mission which I think is the right one: privacy, also a civil right, especially privacy from governments; continued user advocacy; data liberation; a check on walled gardens (and an end to digital sharecropping); the web as mobile platform, even though it is under threat in the mobile arena, the battle seemingly decided, the entrenched incumbent slightly less obvious. This latter — mobile — is reminiscent of the desktop world in 1998. It’s the same story, with smaller machines. Perhaps the same story will have to be told again. I’d like Mozilla to be a major player in that story, just as it always has been a major player on the web. And I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Brendan does next. I’ll miss him as part of Mozilla. This has been crushing.

Coda: what have wise ones said?

“I don’t know why we’re talking about tolerance to begin with. We should be at acceptance and love. What’s this tolerance business? What are you tolerating, backpain? ‘I’ve been tolerating backpain, and the gay guy at work?’” — Hari Kondabalu (watch him on Letterman). And blog posts: Mozilla is not Chick-Fil-A; Thinking about Mozilla; The Hounding of a Heretic (Andrew Sullivan); a few others, discussing what a CEO should do, and what qualities a CEO should possess, which are out there for you to discover.

SxSW 2012 Redux

Things HAPPEN after the browser wars panel I’ve now moderated for five years in a row at SxSW. Brendan posts this about H.264 in Mozilla.

Then, Jeremy Keith, our unofficial rabble-rouser, excoriates the cognoscenti about a certain “lack of imagination.” Chris Wilson, finally at liberty to blog and tweet about his responsibilities as web platform guy for Google, responds conversationally.

Browser wars always delivers. Thank you, Brendan (“Dart? Good luck with that!”), Charles (who conducted a much-needed straw poll: “Who knows what vendor prefixing is?” to which many hands went up, underscoring the fact that SxSW is really our favorite audience), Chris (“Do you ship VBScript?”), and John (“Chromeless — my favorite word.”).

The panel always coincides with my birthday. I won’t get mawkish, but I will say that there’s something interesting about growing up with web browsers professionally. When I was with Netscape, I talked a relentless amount of smack about IE and railed against closed-source stacks. That kind of talk is antiquated now, really. Flash fallback (for video) notwithstanding, there are open sourced stacks that confuse the web platform landscape. We talked about some of those during the panel, chiefly Dart (though SPDY and VP8 got some mention, along with Native Client). At some point, I found myself moderating a panel where browser vendors agree about the importance of DRM, and its inevitability on the web platform, at least as far as video goes. Times have changed. Have we all grown up? There used to be visceral auto-immune responses in some circles to any kind of mention of DRM whatsoever.

This time, SxSW was bigger than ever. Long lines. LOTS of long lines. And after-after-after parties for people that scorn sleep. Of course, I allowed myself some minor peccadilloes this year at SxSW. Like how I found myself on Snoop Dogg’s tour bus at 4a.m. one night, somewhere on the way to San Antonio. But that’s another kind of story. You’ll have to ask me about it in person.

Update: You can follow the H.264 conversation on the hacks blog also if only to be exposed to a different comment stream.

An annotated anthology of Arun Ranganathan's Web noise.