👽 Lee Tusman

← Nosebook 👃📓

Why I Use the Command Line ⌨️

11 Jul 2023

Three-minute read

My friends who watch me use a computer sometimes laugh. I fly with my fingers, sans mouse, and I make extensive use of the command line and the web browser, and not much else. I have a studio computer and a small laptop computer that travels back and forth to school with me that isn’t new by any means but is still quite fast and fun. More than anything, over the years I’ve decreased my reliance on online platforms, and relied less and less on commercial software, particularly cutting anything with a subscription cost. Most dramatically, I went from never using the command line to using it a significant amount of time, and I thought I’d write about why I use it so much and why it’s appealing to me.

In short, I use the command line because it’s fun, it’s logical, expressive, and because it lets me avoid planned obsolescence and arbitrary restrictions. These are not things everyone cares about, but they’re things I as an artist working with code care about! So read on for the details:

I use the command line to resist software and hardware planned obsolescence. It’s almost the opposite of an iOS app. I own (this is embarassing) 3 iPads, my parents’ from 2011, my own from 2017, and one from school from 2021. The 2011 can’t run much of anything. The 2017 worked fine but Apple ended support. They won’t let me update the system and won’t let me download any apps from the app store because the system isn’t up to date, a catch-22. On the other hand, the command line still works on these. It won’t disappear one day. It won’t be made obsolete. I can still run my command line software on these.

And following this: the command line and programs for it are not an ‘app store’ and aren’t controlled by a single entity or company. It’s controlled by me. It can run anything I want.

I use the command line because it works the same or similarly across computers, operating systems, tablets and phones.

I use the command line because it works on practically anything: low power, ancient hardware work fine. I can still browse the web, read and post to social media, read books, keep a to-do list or spreadsheet, or anything else I’m used to do doing. As we grapple with climate change and how our technology choices and consumption impact the earth it’s helpful to use tools that work just as well on our older but still fine machines.

I use the command line because it can be automated. I use this to resize directories of photos in a split second, rather than individually opening and tediously resizing in something like Photoshop. I can backup updated files on my hard drive ultra-quickly. These are just two among many examples.

I use the command line because I can fit different programs together to meet my needs in a way that GUI software can’t or won’t. Why pay a niche internet service that may or may not provide what I need when just a program or two or three can pull it together easily in a minute.

I use the command line because it’s fun to learn, and not so difficult. With a dozen or so commands you can get started and do a lot. You can quickly learn how to piece them together, and how to get help, and intuit how additional programs will work.

I use the command line because command line games are addicting. I have played (and not yet beat) Rogue and Brogue for almost a decade. Backgammon and Chess in the command line are fun and clear. Colossal Cave Adventure is a fun retro experience I particularly enjoy showing my students.

I use the command line because it’s just plain convenient and easy, faster than the GUI, and just lets me get on with my regular computer needs.