code, culture, and a life considered

A Culture of Easy

I’ve been haunted by the distinction of simple and easy.

Specifically, I’ve wondered why developers confuse these ideas over and over. Wouldn’t they, of all people, understand the pain that comes when things don’t work? After all, their job is to build things, and ensure that they work! Why can’t they see that easy often comes at a price? Are most developers just bad at their jobs?

No. But there’s more to it than that.

You see, we live in a culture of easy. Aspirational advertising promises highly intangible goals (such as respect) as outcomes of buying certain products. Social networking offers the promise of human connection while doing everything to keep us generating ad revenue. Fast food lets us eat without putting much time into preparation. But, all of those things are mere shadows of the actual reality. You fake respect by buying luxury goods, you use social networking to plan to meet someone face to face, and you don’t want to eat fast food every day. Knowing this doesn’t render you immune to the effects, unfortunately.

That consumer mindset is easy to bring into other areas of life, and software is no exception. Following the buzz of the tech community is like injecting a giant dose of marketing into your brain. The worst part about it is: you don’t even realize it’s happening. You see people talking a lot about Node, or Docker, or Go, and some part of you figures, “these must be important technologies, or else nobody would be talking about them!” Except, you don’t really know their technical merits, you’ve only inferred this based upon the fact that discussion about them was occuring. After all, they wouldn’t be new if they weren’t better than what’s already out there, right? Surely everyone can’t be fooled!

Except, everyone is often fooled. In a consumer culture, we’re trained to be fooled. We’re taught to be passive, and we’re taught to consume shiny things. New technology is marketed to us in exactly the same way as consumer products are. The feedback cycle of effusive blog posts, heavy marketing, corporate backing, and proclamations of “this time it’s different” create hype. It tells us a story we want to believe. And because we want to believe it, we fall for it.

Meanwhile, the Software Problem rages on, as bad as it ever was. Strangely, nobody seems to notice that the Previous Great Thing didn’t really fix it.

Maybe the Next Big Thing will save us? Don’t let us down, Hacker News!