digital undertow

Bridges are apparently cracking in the US with greater frequency lately; today, in Florida.

Every new thing you add must be maintained.  Everything you do to alter the world requires ongoing maintenance.

The digital world is no different.

Internet creatures are living things, like any other, and the more complex they are, the more they need to “breathe”, to stay alive, much like higher animals must breathe far more quickly than lower animals and plants.

Internet creatures breath “human mental focus”.

In order of increased respiration rates(relative rate in parenthesis):

  • Non-interactive website + email(1)
  • Interactive website which only uses generic web services(DNS, email) and whose full-stack of code is managed and contained on a fixed server or server image(5)
  • Interactive website that heavily leverages specific APIs to perform tasks, but otherwise is managed on a fixed server or server image(50)
  • Interactive site that is code-only, heavily relies on cloud APIs, and deploys directly to a cloud platform(500).

By way of comparison, an old-fashioned, predominantly paper-driven office is perhaps .01.  It’s not very efficient in instantaneous cost terms, but it is also extremely flexible, it provides jobs for a broad sector of the population, it is immune to many forms of attack, and it is unlikely to fail catastrophically.

As long as human minds can fully encompass a task, and that knowledge is fully institutionalized and socialized within the institution, and they can convey that knowledge to their successors, there is no danger of catastrophic information process failure, and little chance of catastrophic data loss.

Digital solutions seem cheap and harmless on the surface, but underneath, they become more complex and more subject to failure over time, as APIs drift, the companies coding them drift in terms of human resources, the companies those companies rely on for API services do likewise… the cloud platforms they all rely on do likewise… and so forth.

The picture of modern websites, to reduce to a phrase, is “pan-dimensional drift”.  It is a shifting mesh of software and hardware in an unknown and unknowable state.

In a simpler time(1990s) there was popular research into how software could be designed in such a way as to eliminate all defects.

Even at the time, I don’t think anyone seriously believed that it was possible, but I think the intended goal was to determine the lower limits of defects.

But now, particularly the way America and probably other nations develop general-purpose software, it’s completely hopeless.

And as indicated above, the more recent the technology, the more heavily invested it is in heavily drifting tech stacks.

So when I go into a Japanese office and see people pushing paper around, or I use a Japanese website and it looks like it’s from 1997, I am comforted.

I know it’s tech stack is isolated and somewhat knowable, and furthermore, I suspect that the seniority social structure implicitly inhibits high-drift(and hence, “high metabolic”) technologies from being deployed.  And that is a good thing, for reasons both technological and social.

Where it makes sense, especially if it’s both a simplification and an improvement to efficiency, Japanese people adopt new technology readily, and, indeed, push the envelope.  There’s just not a mad rush to implement new things for the sake of newness here, which, again, I cherish.

In summary, please try to look beyond the face of technology.  Look beyond what is convenient and what is not.  Remember that every convenience comes with a hidden price, and the higher the technology, the higher that hidden price is.

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