Eschewing the Networks Of Noise

Social Media Signals

On one side is the gigantic internet, a miracle of fine articulation, which turns out the tabloid newspaper: on the other side are the contents of the tabloid itself, symbolically recording the most crude and elementary states of emotion.

I wish that I had written that but I didn’t. I simply switched ‘printing press’ with ‘Internet’ on a quote of Lewis Mumford (Technics and Civilization, 1934).

Someone mentioned that they would add me to some Whatsapp group this morning, but I didn’t have a smart phone – and they did so in a way that hinted at me being some stick-in-the-mud. I have no doubt that they see me as such, but as I responded, “If it weren’t for all the shit being posted, I might bother with it.”

“Yadda yadda yadda”

Case in point. Nothing of worth but implicitly saying, “I don’t care what you think”.

There’s only one suitable response to that, and they got it.

The signal to noise ratio of networks all over bugs me. I suppose part of that is the way that I grew up when minutes on a landline were a cost and thus one got the most value that one could. I suppose that my time in the military reinforced that, where you didn’t waste time in communication – and in dealing with ambulances from the Emergency Department in a Naval Hospital, where communication had to be clear, concise, and devoid of noise. I suppose it was reinforced even more with the SOAP notes that we wrote – quickly, accurately, no noise, anticipating what the reader would be looking for and making those things clear so that a month later you wouldn’t be asked questions about it.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a value to ‘noise’, I won’t disagree, but there is no value when it crosses a certain threshold. This threshold varies between people, and I’ll admit that I have a lower threshold than most that has increased with age.

A perfect example was using Whatsapp group to organize a Hindu funeral. It worked out fairly well despite only fragments of information being shared, and I used my own old smartphone on a wireless network to participate. Towards the end, though, it became a place where people were playing. Jokes inappropriate for a funeral were being posted, and other nonsense that didn’t pertain to the subject of the group were being posted.

Others on Whatsapp were interrupting my day with ancient memes I’d already seen on Facebook and Twitter. They meant well, but to me, what was it? Noise.

During all of this time, I was thinking of getting a smartphone here in Trinidad and Tobago – a period of months, and maybe soon enough I will, but right now I don’t want one because I don’t want to pay more to get less through both phone and service.

Am I the only one that feels this way? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t really care right now. I see children walking around with smartphones, and when I see that I wonder who is teaching them how to communicate clearly and concisely? If 20 and 30 somethings – much less 40 year olds and upward – can’t communicate clearly, do we wonder at the confusion that has become social media – a place of poorly communicated emotion, of poorly communicated ideas?

Society, with all the wonders of technology so well dressed in the palms of their collective hands, seems to be more interested in communicating the tabloid rather than the textbook, and while the tabloid most certainly has it’s place, we need more textbook in my opinion.

After all, competing with it has infected ‘news’ media…

The TechStew

WhirlpoolI’ve had some time away from working on Other People’s Problems (OPP) and I’ve spent it reading and studying things to see what comes next. It’s an interesting exercise in futility because of one main thing that I call TechStew.

Technology is, in engineering speak, an open system. Many of the business concepts around technology assume it’s a closed system, yet the very fact that they involve businesses demonstrates how open a system technology itself is. It’s the stew of exponentially increasing concept combinations (The Medici Effect) that don’t just come from technology.

During my lifetime, the main driver of technology has been business – and that is not likely to change. Every successful technology is sustainable and, in our world, that means having a market to build an economy around it. Students of Software Engineering would see a parallel in the software development life cycle, where the life cycle ends when the cost of maintenance exceeds the value – and value today is measured in money. That’s unlikely to change in the near future either, regardless of how many Star Trek episodes you convince everyone to watch.

Actual innovation, though, doesn’t come from money. It comes from ideas. And actual innovation doesn’t require as much money as people think, but making the innovation sustainable through a market does.

Innovation requires leveraging the tech stew and adding to it from externalities to create new things. Making money off of innovation requires resources. These two things are often confused as the same by passionate and frustrated people, but the distinction exists.

Since markets play a role, we get into sociology and economics to find what people value and what they don’t (so it can be fixed).

And the TechStew grows and grows, even as older systems form the new skeleton that limits what can be done within the market. Backward compatibility. What people are used to.

The Coding Precarity

Decoding Alan TuringThere’s a brave new world coming, and it’s something I’ve been considering for the past few years. As artificial intelligence begins writing more and more code, and troubleshooting it, the women and men who have made their money speaking to machines are slowly joining the precariat.

It’s not a bad thing or a good thing. It’s not a matter of the sky falling. It’s a simple reality that the precariat needs to consider and find a way past.

Coding is a part of the Software Engineering discipline – wherever it actually exists as a discipline. Coding, on the other hand, is not the entirety of Software Engineering despite what the market appears to think.

HR departments all over the world are trying to fill what are really glorified code monkey positions. And that’s not the future of Software Engineering as I see it, or as circumspection will show. We’re seeing more and more code generated by AIs, and really, if you actually

It’s going to be about ‘soft skills‘. It’s going to be about getting the right requirements to hand off to the coders, because the coders in time are less and less likely  to be human. It’s going to be about interacting with the people in dealing with what they want and making sure that they get what they want.

Of course, wanting what they actually need is something that they still need to get better at.