Mind The Gap
It's time to conclude the (unplanned) saga about social pressure and technological decision making (Pressure and The man in the Web 2.0 Mask). As you might have noticed this pressure farewell-post took me a while to accomplish. The reason is that the issues raised are far from being limited to technology decision-making: they touch the basic conflict & tension between the Individual and his/her reference Group; they touch the commercial powers driving noble ideas and their conscious or unconscious will to enslave the end-users; and so forth. So a bit self-depressed, I've started looking for support groups around the net… and stumbled upon some interesting voices.
I'll start with Dan Farber, a Gillmor Gang member, who shared with the Gang listeners his impressions from the web-2.0, 2800 US$, sold-out conference:
"These (Yahoo, Google, AOL) are companies who'd wanted hundred of millions of people to be their users… [they] keep building things, making things that are sticky and where YOU basically brand yourself: 'I am a Google person', or 'I am a Yahoo Person', an 'AOL Person', or a 'Microsoft Person' and that's really how it's shaping up".
I also came across Nicholas "Does IT Matter?" Carr's post The amorality of Web 2.0, which reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Suit and the child exclaiming “But he has nothing on at all”. With arguments that turn mostly around Wikipedia, he demonstrates how shallow, inaccurate and disturbing the Vox Populi might be.
Lastly, I re-read an article I was reading some 3 months ago titled The Economics of Commercial Open Source. At the time I was surprised to see the word "Commercial" prefixing its antipode - the supposedly commercial-free "Open Source". So I came back to this article, written by Lajos Moczar, and found that he had written another brilliant analysis titled The Open Source Monopoly. Here's an excerpt:
"We now are constantly engaged in what is actually an abstract exercise in determining "the best". It is a seductive argument - after all, don't we want the best possible database, car or mortgage rate? It is more enticing because we believe that we are being "objective" and therefore highly evolved. In fact, however, we have traded the reality of our own subjective needs for somebody else's subjectivity disguised as objectivity! There is no objectivity when anyone can present a product as "the best". If you don't know your own needs any more, how can you possibly distinguish? The only way is through some artificial means like popularity or price".
This last piece is the best. It raises the problem in all its ample so now a solution could well be sought.
My solution has always been Architecture: this abstract, immaterial way of thinking about needs, concerns, pressure and identity. Architecture is stronger than Technology, and it gives me a sense of control I lack in the Panta Rey technological-river. Yesterday, Python "rocked", and the day before that – Perl, but today – we could all well tell - the king no doubt is Ruby on Rails. Today I'm a Google person but for a web 2.0 bread and pottage of lentiles, I would love to become a Yahoo's. Net dynamics, or is it not?
So Technology is ephemeral, trendy, and popular. Let's say it a la Shirky: Technology is overrated. Architecture, on the other hand, is underrated, even though it is presumably more resistible to time, and it is driven not by the principles of Economy and Venture Capitalists but rather by the principles of the Seven Artes Liberales: (1) Grammar (2) Rhetoric (3) Logic (4) Arithmetic (5) Geometry (6) Music Harmonics, or Tuning Theory [Number in time], (7) Astronomy or Cosmology.
I would even claim that Technology restricts and limits the work of the architect. If architecture is reversed-engineered from an existing portfolio of technologies, paradigm shifts wouldn't be possible. Pay attention to the difference I'm making here: technology advancement will occur; paradigm shifts won't.
So what I usually do while digesting new technologies, is to reverse-engineer their architecture. And if my existing architecture is equal or better – I am not engaging myself in any technological change whatsoever. But, if the pure principles behind the new technology are better than those I employ, well – that's usually an exciting moment.
To sum it all up: there's a gap between your needs and the technologies that vendors and web 2.0 gangs are offering you. Mind that gap and make architecture your point of reference - it will help you float.
This is third and last post in the "Pressure" series (Pressure, The Man In the Web2.0 Mask and Mind the Gap)