Why we can’t KISS…

Image by after-the-party - Deviantart

Image by after-the-party - Deviantart

I write elsewhere about Y2K problem referring to traditional programming practice in early computer programming languages to code dates with as few digits as possible, which led the practice of expressing your year as last two digits, so 1985 would be simply 85 – with a one line of code turning all date references into the proper date. It is nerdish, I admit, but the code back then was so elegant – when computer disk space was at a premium – that it has become a lost art.

There is no accurate statistic on this but it is estimated that we use only 10% of the features of software, say MS Word. Because it has become easier to code programs – particularly since the introduction of Object-Orientated Programming and now with code repositories where functions can be accessed freely and literally be copied and pasted, software design has deteriorated to the extent that there it has its own Wikipedia entry.

From simple things like our houses to complex things like social structures, road networks and software – the tendency seems to be towards greater complexity.

I am fascinated by complexity.

For instance I wrote about this to share some personal experiences in a particular knack that I have. I am not sure if it is innate or whether I acquired the skill by accident; but there are always underlying patterns and I seem to see them when others don’t.

Fractal Geometry illustrates visually how a very simple mathematical equation produces very complex shapes. (Chaos Theory is really about explaining the underlying order of things and is not really about chaos and there is nothing random about it.)

We want to add features. Whether it is software (compare Windows 8 to Basic) or whether it is cars (remember when Hyundai Excel was bottom of the range, death-trap?) we keep on drifting towards the complex.

We do things that have never been done; like climb a mountain.

We do this because we can – it is part of makes us human. So we keep adding and keep making things more complex.

If ever there was an argument against evolution, then this is it because evolutionary forces would seem to demand that lean and mean and simply effective is the more desired condition. Instead we design and develop to make us lazier and more ineffective.

But with that freedom to choose between simple and complex, that ability to innovate and that desire to go on a quest for constant improvement we ignore the corollary effect – and we end up complicating things.

  • ·        In the process of making our food preserve better – we end up poisoning ourselves.
  • ·        In the process of writing computer programs, we end up with bloatware.
  • ·        In the process of building better homes, we end up with McMansions where everyone is in their own room.

The list is endless; and the obvious observation is that there is a fine line between progress and poison. Our tendency to seek comfort and make things easy has the unintended consequences of making things complex and counter-productive.

Doing simple is really hard and requires smarts.

This is illustrated no better than this quotation:

I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short (Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte)~Blaise Pascal.