summing up 112

summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Preventing the Collapse of Civilization, by Jonathan Blow

My thesis is that software is actually in decline right now. I don't think most people would believe me if I say that, it sure seems like it's flourishing. So I have to convince you at least that this is a plausible perspective.

What I'll say about that is that collapses, like the Bronze Age collapse, were massive. All civilizations were destroyed, but it took a hundred years. So if you're at the beginning of that collapse, in the first 20 years you might think "Well things aren't as good as they were 20 years ago but it's fine".

Of course I expect the reply to what I'm saying to be "You're crazy! Software is doing great, look at all these internet companies that are making all this money and changing the way that we live!" I would say yes, that is all happening. But what is really happening is that software has been free riding on hardware for the past many decades. Software gets "better" because it has better hardware to run on.

Our technology is accelerating at a frightening rate, a rate beyond our understanding of its impact. We spend millions of dollars and countless hours researching newer, faster tools, but we haven’t bothered to research the most fundamental, strategic issues that will provide the highest payoffs for augmenting our abilities.

Andreessen's Corollary: Ethical Dilemmas in Software Engineering, by Bryan Cantrill

I think that the key with ethics is not answers. Don't seek answers. Seek to ask questions. Tough questions. Questions that may make people feel very uncomfortable. Questions that won't necessarily have nice, neat answers. These questions are going to be complicated, but it is the act of asking them, that allows us to consider them. If we don't ask them, we're going to simply do the wrong thing.

And I think that if you've got an organization that in which question asking is encouraged, I think you will find that you will increasingly do the right thing. That you are less likely, I think, to move adrift with respect to these principles.

Questions are more important than answers. Answers change over time and different circumstances, even for the same person, while questions endure.

21st Century Design, by Don Norman

Most of our technical fields who study systems leave out people, except there's some object in there called people. And every so often there are people who are supposed to do something to make sure the system works. But there's never any analysis of what it takes to do that, never any analysis of whether this is really an activity that's well suited for people, and when people are put into it or they burn out or they make errors etc., we blame the people instead of the way the system was built. Which doesn't at all take into account people's abilities and what we're really good at – and also what we're bad at.

Collaboration shows us that the world often isn’t zero-sum. It doesn't have to be humans versus technology, technology versus humans or humans versus other humans. Collaboration shows us that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that collaboration is succeeding because of their differences, not despite.

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My letters are about long-lasting, sustainable change that fundamentally amplify our human capabilities and raise our collective intelligence through generations. Would love to have you on board.