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Finding Uniqueness

Mark Mzyk | July 1, 2009

I’m going to venture outside the realm of software and contemplate a different philosophical issue: what makes man unique?

It’s certainly an issue that has fascinated man for a long time.  Not being a philosophy major, I can’t rattle off the major minds who have contemplated this issue.  “I think, therefore I am” comes to mind, but Descartes wasn’t contemplating what made him unique, he was contemplating what he could know was real.

I’ve heard lots of reasons put forward for what makes man unique, although I don’t remember where I heard all of them.  Reasoning and logic is an oft cited argument for what makes man man.  It used to be that the ability to use tools was given as the uniqueness factor.  Language is another popular option.

Yet one by one, these have also been shown to be true in other animals, thereby robbing man of its uniqueness in these factors.  I’ll grant that language still holds out hope of proving to be a unique factor among humans, but it’s only going to do so by arguing in degrees, such as insisting that your dog isn’t human because he can’t speak French (Non, ce n’est pas vrai! your dog might argue).

No factor by itself leads to humanity’s uniqueness.  A combination of all factors, however, makes humans unique animals.  Reasoning, logic, tools, language, and all the rest of it combined serve to make humanity unique.  One trait doesn’t always make something special.  The combination of ordinary traits in a unique way can and does make something special.

To bring this back to the computing world: computers are nothing more than silicon and plastic and electricity and a myriad of other elements, particles, and pieces combined in a unique way.  Software only works because a set of bits was lined up in just the right way.  Put it all together one way and you have a Zune.  Another way and you find the iPhone.  Make a few different choices and you end up with something else.  Each is a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  You may argue that some are greater than others, but that’s beside the point.

You’re unique.  I’m sure you’ve been told this since the day you were born (if you’re in the Western world, anyway.  There are some cultures where one’s individuality isn’t held up as an ideal).  How are you unique?  You’re unique because of each choice you make, everyday.

A career is the sum of the choices you make everyday.

It’s a little step, each day.  It’s registering a domain name.  It’s putting up something about you on that domain.  It’s writing software.  It’s writing open source software and submitting it to github.  It’s meeting the killer deadline your boss set.  It’s telling your boss no.  It’s remember to enjoy nature for a moment.  It’s remembering to kiss your wife goodnight.

All of this relates.  It relates just as reasoning relates to tools, which relate to language.  The relationship might not be clear, but the threads are there.  It’s taking it one day at a time to make yourself ever more unique.  You need not worry about doing that one thing that will make you unique.  There isn’t one thing that makes you unique, just like there isn’t one think that makes man or makes the iPhone unique.  It’s the combination that makes everything unique.

Man didn’t appear in a day: he evolved over time.  The iPhone didn’t appear out of Steve Job’s head: it was designed over time.  So to, your uniqueness is crafted over time.  Start working today and tomorrow you’ll find yourself being singled out.  You’re unique now, but what future combination of your work will make others go wow?

I’m waiting to see.