There’s a common phrase that technology (referring to IT) is just going forward so fast
that we can’t follow it. There is a hint of truth in this. I’ve witnessed the evolution
of home computers from the 1980s onwards, and in some point I kind of lost interest
in the intricate details of what a certain desktop or laptop contained. Vendors pushed
so much real buster and less-than-important products on the market that you had to
be looking at the news at least an hour daily.
It was enough for me to know that a computer ran programs well. What kind of chipsets, memory types,
or processors were inside I felt was quite unnecessary information.
Well, quite often I’d run into situations where the computer that I had bought did not
answer my expectations. What was often the case was that some little extra hardware
or feature was missing; which caused problems in interconnecting devices, or for example burning a CD. So I should have been a lot more conscientious. This certainly taught a lesson –
even though technology might seem very user-friendly and forgiving on the outside, it’s
quite the contrary. The bigger bets we’re playing with, the more accurately we have to place
them. There’s no “fuzzy logic” yet with hardware. It’s all pure boolean logic.
At one point the marketing of technology started to shift. It went from talking
figures to talking what a certain technology can really achieve – which was fine actually,
once you got over the feeling that the text contained a lot of syrup. As an example,
let’s take a big chip manufacturer. What really happens behind the veils of R&D, is that
bit handling inside the processor is made more efficient. The technologies involved
are pipelining, multithreading, locking, branch predictions, etc. All of these are
a world of their own – really complex issues where academic and business research is
constantly churning out better results. But what the marketing division told the
chip maker was: “Talk about multimedia experiences. Talk about sharing nice memories
with photos. Talk about making life smooth.” So it became hard to see what the
real, measurable differences between competiting processors were.
In IT there’s the need to create bigger spheres of abstraction. Administrators want
to control bigger systems with fewer keyclicks and mouse button presses. It’s kind
of megalomanic, to be honest. But the systems always remind of the need to pay
attention to minute detail: often there’s a single bottleneck that can be overlooked,
like power supply. Or the fact that somebody might accidentally stumble upon a
network cable and break the connection.
Computers and technology in general do make our life smoother. It’s by combining
the increasing raw power and process innovations. And with process I mean the very
life processes that we use: messaging, calculating, gathering information,
making decisions; invoking services (pizza, taxi, ordering equipment, etc.) and
sharing knowledge of the world.
We’ve only begun the trip.. Enjoy!