The Music in Noise

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Five Technological Principles to Live By - 2021-01-21

A problem that presents itself with our use of modern technologies and how we develop them is how extremely inefficient it ends up being. Often times the technological solutions we choose to solve a given problem are overly complex and rigid, requiring us to be wasteful. As a result of this demand for poorly designed technologies, suppliers provide exactly what we ask for, and as such engineers develop technologies that promote this inefficient use.

Basing these primarily on the UNIX philosophy[1], I've come up with a five principles by which I decide which technological solutions to elect, as well as how my own software should be designed. It's worth noting that these are not only applicable to software or even digital technological solutions, but rather can be applied to any use of technology.

Necessity. We must understand this principle not in its strictest form (i.e. what is absolutely necessary to survive), but rather in the true sense of what an ordered use of technology is: a means to achieve an end. We call them "solutions" because they solve a problem. As such, technology should not be an end within itself, and if we are to use a technology, it should be to achieve a set goal. If there is no goal then we should likely not use the technology.

As a note on this matter, we must distinguish technology as a tool (which is the object of this article) and technology used in art (e.g. a video game), as in this case the art is the end to which the technology is ordered.

Simplicity. After we determine that a technological solution is required, and as such have also determined what features we require of said technology to provide a viable solution, we must always choose the simplest option available to use. This is to say, a solution that does only that which we require of it and nothing more. In the (common) event that this is not possible, we must choose that solution which has the least amount of excess features. The reason being that the more complex a system is the higher chances there are of that system having a structural flaw, and due to the complexity of the technology, solving it becomes its very own struggle. As such, by having a system that is no more complex than absolutely necessary, one avoids a larger number of technological problems. To give an example, one is much more likely to encounter problems writing with a typewriter than with a pen or pencil.

This principle, however, should never trump the principle of necessity. That is to say, we should not neglect a necessity in the name of simplicity. If a necessity requires that a more complex solution be used, then this overrides the principle of simplicity.

Modularity. In aid of maintaining the principle of simplicity, a technological solution should also be modular, and therefore facilitating the addition and removal of modules/components that can add new features. This permits the base technology to only provide the most basic and fundamental of functionalities, while also being extensible such that new features that may be required by the user can easily be added or removed when need be. Here one could think of the example of a hunter's rifle, upon which a scope may be mounted.

Interoperability. A technological solution must be able to easily operate with other technologies, thereby permitting that each one may specialize in a specific task, and the output of one may serve as input for the next. This principle reinforces the principle of simplicity by allowing for each individual technology to specialize in its own task, rather than requiring that a single technology solve the entire problem. This can be thought of in the sense of an assembly line, where at each station a different task is performed. Each task is independent of the one before it, yet they all contribute towards the same ultimate goal.

Universality. The technology must be able to input and output in a standard and universal format that is not specific to that technology, therefore facilitating its replacement with a better solution. This principle serves to enable the previous principle of interoperability, as it is what allows for one technology to input the output of another, making proper use of it. It also makes the system of independent interoperable technologies more flexible, allowing one to remove one component and replace it with another that may have more aptitude solving a particular problem. An example of this would be language itself, as we use a common language in order to communicate ideas in a standard manner such that it may be commonly understood.

Now, although these principles are great in theory, in practice we find that often times solutions meeting all these principles are simply not available. This is especially true in the area of computer programs, where often times companies will neglect these principles (regardless of how useful they are) for business reasons. However, they may still serve as a general guideline when we discern what technological solutions to choose to solve different problems we are confronted with, and those technologies that are compliant with more principles should be favored over those that are compliant with less.

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