Why Vim? A personal reflection

Vim is one of my best investments in time and energy when it comes to so-called hacker tools. Still, productivity as such is not the main concern for me. At least not the kind of productivity that comes from navigation and editing. I use Vim for other reasons.

As a person I am easily distracted by 'noise'. This is a weakness. Unfortunately, this is a general flaw of mine. For instance, I love reading and if I commute I need music in the background to be able to read (when reading at home I never combine music and reading). I need music to distance myself from the surrounding world. I also try to limit how much of my surroundings I see; too much movement and my thoughts are interrupted.

When I know I must focus, I make sure not get notifications from Slack and I do mail as it is orginally intended, asynchronically. Checking my mail is an action. Some people can be just as productive in chaos. But I like distract-free mode, and therefore I love Vim. I don't like seeing buttons and the menu items of modern applications. Most of the time I consider this to be bad UX. I want my work environment clean.

This has nothing to do with minimalism as a movement. Take art, I like authors like Alice Munroe, Raymond Carver, and Jorge Luis Borges, but I also like the non-minimalist style of Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and JRR Tolkien. I enjoy the minimalism of Bachs Goldberg Variations, but I also adore the Matthew Passions. And I enjoy the same kind of opposites within other genres. But such preferences has nothing to do with under what circumstances I am productive. And it has presumably nothing to do with under what conditions artists make their art or how scientists do science, and so on.

Vim has been around and has made use of the same 'language' for navigation and editing for over 30 years now. Vim is an integral part of the Unix Eco-system and I think the same kind of arguments people use for learning and using Unix, applies to Vim. It never changes, it has been, and will for years to come, be the same kind of composable 'language' you use for doing your text-related tasks.

There is a strong similarity between some aspects of Unix and the Western canon. At least, this seems to be a very reasonable assumption.

If you read Kant and other central figures in philosophy it's so much easier to read Anglo-Saxon philosophers such as Wittgenstein or Rawls but also continental philosophers such as Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault. Reading, for instance, Kant's Critique of pure reason is a massive investment in time, but it pays of very quickly and is an investment you have for life.

While new things might or might not be part of the canon of tomorrow, we know the canon to be battle-tested. But this is not enough. Only if people keep using an application, it deserves to be canon. People use Unix software because they think it is useful. Canon is, according to a very common view, things we're coming back to because we find them meaningful. When something ends being meaningful, we don't return. True for books, and arguable also for software.

Vim is not Unix, but only a very small part of it. And most of the time you don't use Vim in the Unix sense, that is as a part of a composable language. But the same kind of argument applies: if you learn this tool, you can use it for years to come. Also, you use Vim in a similar way by composing units.

Too what extent is it possible to separate ourselves from the tools we use? Tools are solutions to problems, and we must keep in mind that no perfect tools exist. Problems change too, both with respect to content and form.

Using a tool - as well as using other tools, solving the very same task - is not only about solving problems. By using a tool our awareness of problems grows, or is hidden.

Am I a fool? Perhaps. But it is sometimes said that the path to true wisdom only can be walked by making great mistakes. And you can't cheat. I will use Vim for a very long time. I don't know where this path will take me.