Sheesh, I leave you people alone for a few days, and what happens?... :)
chromatic: This was on my list of things to write about on here, so I guess I'll give it a brief treatment here.
Close to two years ago I went to a training class at
work called "Consulting Skills". Almost the first thing they taught us was personality types. The
they used had four quadrants. On the y-axis they labelled the top as "dominant" and the bottom as "submissive". On the x-axis they labelled the right as "task-oriented" and the left as "people-oriented".
Computer nerds such as ourselves usually fall in the lower right quadrant. We're more task-oriented than people-oriented, so things, and in particular accomplishments, appeal to us more than interacting with people, as a general rule. So meeting random people at a party would be draining to us, but would be enjoyable or even stimulating to people on the left side.
Similarly, we're more on the submissive side. The type in the upper right is also task-oriented, but they're more of the take-charge types. (They're more likely to be project managers, for example.) They'd rather make a snap decision and deal with the consequences than analyze and agonize. If a job needs to be done, they'd just jump in and start doing it, and try to fix the mess they created later, whereas our type would say, "Whoa, wait a minute, let me stop and think about this/do some research/review the existing codebase/read a few O'Reilly books on the subject first."
We're more attentive to the details. If there's a typo in a document or a program we're the first to notice it. (I have an award certificate hanging on my wall, from my volunteer service at my church. The first thing I noticed when I got it was that they had two spaces between a pair of words when they had the expected one space between words everywhere else. It just jumped out at me--that's the first thing my eye landed on. I figured it would be ungrateful to complain about it, so I didn't say anything, and over the past year that I've had it I've learned to not let it bug me.)
I wanted to learn more on the subject, but I didn't have anything meaningful to search on, since searches such as "personality type" would come up with things like Meyer-Briggs. MBTI is nice and all, but it's not a "pocket methodology": You can't easily apply it to somebody when you're in a conversation with them, whereas with this methodology you can see which quadrant(s!) people live in rather easily, so you can gain useful information about them, and about how to relate to them, without asking them to fill out a 100-question survey first.
Eventually I started stumbling upon some books that talk about this. Various sources recognize the four personality types, but most of them categorize them descriptively--only a few (the author of our instructor's materials being one of them) arrange them into quadrants, which is what makes it even more useful.
But apparently people started classifying people into these four types way back in ancient Greek times. A Greek philosopher (don't ask me to remember who right now) coined some labels for the types, which he termed "humours", which many people have used over the years. (That's what finally enabled me to do useful net searches.)
He used the labels choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholy.
Guess which label is used for the lower-right quadrant?
I read somewhere once a commentary on how surprising it was that computer science was adopted as an academic discipline as rapidly as it was. It seemed like it didn't take very long (within two decades perhaps?) for computer science departments, distinct from mathematics and physics/electrical engineering, to spring up at universities worldwide. (I guess the assertion is that other areas, such as other hard sciences, soft sciences like psychology, or fine/liberal arts, took much longer, centuries even, to be honored with such recognition.) The author speculated that computer science appealed to something in certain personality types that nothing else in history adequately tapped into, so when computer science per se came into being, people who were unfulfilled in other disciplines flocked to it.
So I'd definitely go with your hypothesis that it's something about the field that draws certain people with certain attributes, rather than something about the field that instills certain attributes into people.
[S]ometimes I care a great deal about what kind of a world I'm helping to build. I want to make a place of peace, a place of learning, a place of healing, and a place that helps people to become better and more complete. It's a huge goal, and the best way I know of is to be a good example.
For me, that's my church. But I think I take your point, that we have to think about things bigger than just technology and what's cool today. (RMS's point is the same, but from a different angle.) And of course my church encourages being a good example...
BTW, looks like Advogato's diary-posting mechanism is either going up and down or is extremely slow; hoping I can actually get all this text posted.