At first glance, Lucy Wu seems to be like just any other programmer. But behind her laptop privacy filter lies a secret darker than her terminal background: she was once a devoted member of the Church of Emacs.
“It’s a dangerous spiral — you start using Emacs as your primary text editor, and next thing you know, you start using Emacs as your primary operating system,” warns Wu. “When I was part of the Church of Emacs, I was completely isolated from reality. Listening to music, surfing the web, sending email — that was all mediated through Emacs.”
For Wu, the indoctrination started early. “I started using Emacs in my college’s computer systems class,” she recounts. “Since it was non-modal, I figured it would have a faster learning curve than Vim, which most of my other classmates were using. And at first, I thought I was right — while my friends were struggling with entering insert mode and exiting Vim, I was writing code with ease.”
But what initially seemed to be a time saver quickly became a time sink, drawing Wu deeper and deeper into the mires of Emacs. “With all the options for customization available to me, I started spending more and more time adding extensions to my init file,” she says. “My other friends only opened up their preferred text editors to edit files, and then they’d close them. But I never closed Emacs — I’d become so reliant on the personalized settings in my init file that I’d forgotten what it was like to operate a computer normally.”
So, we ask Wu, what caused you to see the light and leave the Church?
“As with many of my fellow ex-Church members, it all started when I began questioning its
ctrl,” says Wu. “After many months of nonstop Emacs usage, I developed ‘Emacs pinky,’ and even mapping
caps lock didn’t alleviate the strain. But the real blow occurred when I was forced to use Emacs on someone else’s computer one day.” She shudders. “Their environment was completely different from mine, and it was excruciatingly painful—quite literally — to use. It was then that I realized the extent to which the Church of Emacs had disconnected its members from the real world: each of us was living in a false reality of our own making.”
Wu continues, “Typing
C-x C-c was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s undoubtedly changed my life for the better. Now that I’m not spending all my free time looking up new extensions to add to my init file, I have time to do all sorts of things, like showering and having friends.”
With some trepidation, we finally broach the question on all of our minds: since repudiating Emacs, has Wu converted to the Cult of vi?
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snorts. “I may have lived in the basement of the CS department building for months on end when I was part of the Church, but I don’t hate myself that much.”