A fascinating look at what it might take to create a truly sunstainable long-term computer.
I probably need to upgrade the Huffduffer server but Maciej nails why that’s an intimidating prospect:
Doing this on a live system is like performing kidney transplants on a playing mariachi band. The best case is that no one notices a change in the music; you chloroform the players one at a time and try to keep a steady hand while the band plays on. The worst case scenario is that the music stops and there is no way to unfix what you broke, just an angry mob. It is very scary.
The newest Gary Hustwit film is a documentary about Dieter Rams, featuring plinkity music by Brian Eno.
Rams is a design documentary, but it’s also a rumination on consumerism, materialism, and sustainability.
JP Rangaswami also examines the rise of the platforms but he’s got some ideas for a more sustainable future:
A part of me wants to evoke Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander when it comes to building sustainable platforms. The platform “community” needs to be cared for and looked after, the living spaces they inhabit need to be designed to last. Multipurpose rather than monoculture, diverse rather than homogeneous . Prior industrial models where entire communities would rely on a single industry need to be learnt from and avoided. We shouldn’t be building the rust belts of the future. We should be looking for the death and life of great platforms, for a pattern language for sustainable platforms.
Even more intriguing than their vast distribution across three continents is their time depth. Acheulean hand axes have been found at sites spanning 1.5 million years of human existence, dating from roughly 1.6 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. That makes the Acheulean ax the most sustainable technology that members of our genus (Homo) ever developed. Consider, in contrast, the amount of technological change that has occurred in just the last 150 years (since the first telephone call), one ten-thousandth the amount of time the Acheulean hand ax was made and used. Or consider the amount of technological change in just the last 10 years (since the first iPhone was introduced), one one-hundred-fifty-thousandth the amount of time that Acheulean hand axes were made and used. In the memorable words of my former professor Arthur J. Jelinek, hand axes represent “mind-numbing technological stability.”
A deeply thoughtful piece (as always) by Wilson, on the mindset needed for a sustainable way of working.
When we start with the assumption that optimizing for rapid, unbounded growth is a goal, we immediately narrow the possibility space. There are only so many choices we can make that will get us there. The same choices that made annual monoculture and the shopping mall the most efficient engines for short-term growth and profit are the same qualities that made them unsustainable in the long term.
There are more ways to scale than growth. There are more ways to deepen our impact than just reaching more people. What if we put just as much effort into scaling the impact of our work over time? Can we build digital products around sustainable systems that survive long enough to outlive us, that are purpose-built to thrive without our constant cultivation?
On the fifth anniversary of Pinboard, Maciej reflects on working on long-term projects:
Avoiding burnout is difficult to write about, because the basic premise is obnoxious. Burnout is a rich man’s game. Rice farmers don’t get burned out and spend long afternoons thinking about whether to switch to sorghum.
The good news is, as you get older, you gain perspective. Perspective helps alleviate burnout.
The bad news is, you gain perspective by having incredibly shitty things happen to you and the people you love. Nature has made it so that perspective is only delivered in bulk quantities. A railcar of perspective arrives and dumps itself on your lawn when all you needed was a microgram.
A spot-on analysis by Khoi of the changing perception of the value in product design, as exemplified by Apple.
Now this is some prioritisation I can admire:
I’m going to build valuable, reliable, sustainable web services that will last forever.