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2011/03/11

Computing and Simplicity

As I was preparing lunch the other day, I noticed two co-workers poking at a computer. One looks at me and says "Aren't computers supposed to make things simpler?"

No.

A thousand times, no.

Computers are supposed to allow us greater and more numerous avenues of possibility.

I say that all science is computer science these days because if you can do something without having to handle large amounts of complicated data, using computers to tell machines to manipulate things far smaller than you can do by hand, without using modern instruments and the computers that control them — if you can find out what you want to find out without that, it was probably done years ago.

I say that because computer networking allows for computer networking, for knowing people via Facebook and Twitter and Skype and wikis and chatrooms and whatever, which gives you connections based on interests, not proximity.

If you want simplicity, go out and find a plot of land. Plant seeds. Let it rain. The seeds grow. You harvest and eat the seeds, and plant some. Let that be the whole of your life. That's simple. And it's not for me. The whole of civilization has been built so that more and more people can justify not doing that.

(Lest anyone accuse me of slamming farmers, I have farmers in the family, and they more fully embrace and become more expert in more technologies than anyone else I know. They aren't keeping it simple, either.)

Of course, I said this.

Which is not what people struggling with computers want to hear. They want to hear how to take their means of using PowerPoint to generate HTML and/or images which they then put on the Wiki and make it work, and that philosophic postulates which do not address the problem at hand make them angry.

Of course, I noted that they had fallen victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia", but only slightly less well-known is "Never use Microsoft Office if you can help it."

This time, I wisely kept this thought to myself.