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OSD 235: Guns are for nerds
How to make gun ownership go truly mainstream.
Suppose you need to drive to the grocery store. How do you start your car?
Today, if you have an electric car, you don’t start it, you just get in and go.
For slightly earlier cars, you just push a button to start it.
A generation before that, you’d turn a key.
Go back another generation and you’d need to adjust the choke before the car would start on a cold day.
Go back to a Ford Model T and you’d need to adjust the choke, prime the carburetor with fuel, adjust the ignition timing, place the car in neutral, and hand-crank the engine with a lever directly connected to the crankshaft. And remember to use your left hand to crank the engine — using your right hand would increase the chances of the crank breaking your arm if the engine backfired. Here’s Ford Motor Company’s helpful instruction on that topic:
In practice, the process of taking cars mainstream was the process of hiding more and more of how they work. Cars started out as specialized, temperamental mechanical equipment, and today you can get in your Tesla and drive coast-to-coast without knowing anything about how the machine works. You’ll put 100,000 miles on it with nary a thought to maintenance beyond tires and brake pads.
Imagine a spectrum titled “How much do users have to know or care about how this thing works?” You can map all technology onto that spectrum. From left to right:
Institutional professionals only
The technology exists. It’s big, expensive, and typically requires a team to run.
Examples: MRI machines, jet airplanes, mainframes, artillery
Side note: some tech abstracts away a lot of complexity over time but stays in this spot on the spectrum. See for example the elimination of the role of flight engineers from modern jets.
You can access the technology as an individual. You have to invest a lot of time and money.
Examples: high-end home automation, specialized vehicles (e.g. racing cars, offroading trucks, Cessnas), night vision
Cost isn’t a major barrier. The users are people who spend enough time learning and tinkering that they can get the thing working right.
Examples: apps for professional uses (e.g. video editing, design), comms equipment, old school home heating technology (e.g. wood stoves), guns
Most people can use the tech without knowing or caring how it works.
Examples: electric cars, modern home HVAC, the internet, phone apps
(If you like these kinds of frameworks for thinking about technological development, be sure to also check out “OSD 132: Create, standardize, repeat”, “OSD 139: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, and “OSD 145: Guns, Andy Warhol, and Coca-Cola”.)
The implication here is that your tech can’t go mainstream until your users don’t know or care how it works. For people who care about a technology, that’s a scary thought. Car people lament that when you open the hood of a new car, you just see a sheet of plastic. Computer people worry about billions of people blindly entrusting their data to the convenience of a few companies’ centralized cloud services.
Those are reasonable concerns. But the lesson of history is that if people need to care how your tech works, then a lot of people just aren’t going to use it. That’s counterintuitive for fans of tech, because our passion is to get people to love the tech we care about. So there’s a simple choice to make. If you want your tech to be for hobbyists, make your users love learning about it. If you want your tech to be for everybody, make your users not need to know anything about it.
Apply that to guns. Let’s enumerate some basic things you need to know to own (let alone to carry) a bog standard 9mm Glock:
How to load and clear the chamber
How to disassemble and reassemble the gun
How to clean and lubricate the gun
How to aim using iron sights
In the OSD Discord this week, we were discussing how to store a home defense gun. The discussion covered the concepts of condition 1 vs. condition 3, which guns have firing pin blocks and which don’t, and the potential causes of a slamfire.
If guns ever go truly mainstream, the vast majority of users aren’t going to know what any of those things mean, just like the vast majority of internet users don’t know anything about TCP/IP.
Today those gun concepts are important, so we have to educate newbies about them. But the long-term goal is to get gun tech to a point that newbies don’t have to know this stuff. That’s the path to the mainstream.
Next week we’ll talk about what that might look like.
This week’s links
From The Reload’s Stephen Bole, himself a university student.
A related OSD essay from the past, about product development and the fact that guns are still a cottage industry.
OSD Discord server
If you like this newsletter and want to talk live with the people behind it, join the Discord server. The OSD team and readers are there. Good vibes only.
Gun apparel you’ll want to wear out of the house.
If you’re a new gun owner, thinking about becoming one, or know someone who is, come to OSD office hours. It’s a free 30-minute video call with an OSD team member to ask any and all your questions.
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