Rule of Silence in Programming and Society

The rule of silence, also referred to as the silence is golden rule, is an important part of the Unix philosophy that states that when a program has nothing surprising, interesting or useful to say, it should say nothing. It means that well-behaved programs should treat their users’ attention and concentration as being valuable and thus perform their tasks as unobtrusively as possible. That is, silence in itself is a virtue.

There is no single, standardized statement of the Unix philosophy, but perhaps the simplest description would be: “Write programs that are small, simple and transparent. Write them so that they do only one thing, but do it well and can work together with other programs.” That is, the philosophy centers around the concepts of smallness, simplicity, modularity, craftsmanship, transparency, economy, diversity, portability, flexibility and extensibility.

This philosophy has been fundamental to the the fact that Unix-like operating systems have been thriving for more than three decades, far longer than any other family of operating systems, and can be expected to see continued expansion of use in the years to come, particularly in the form of Linux.

Some people might feel that the rule of silence could also be applied to ambient noise. For example, announcements over loudspeakers and the prerecorded music which is continuously played in some stores, restaurants, hotel lobbies, elevators (and is often referred to as elevator music) is providing information (if music can be considered information) that some people enjoy. However, others find it distracting or even extremely annoying, including many people who truly like music. Thus, the rule of silence would imply that silence should be the default situation and those people who want to listen to music can use personal audio devices or go to special locations for listening to it, rather than requiring that some percentage of the people be annoyed, have to complain and/or have to wear earplugs. Likewise, announcements over loudspeakers should be saved for true emergencies rather than being the default means for providing what is often trivial or unnecessary information.




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