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In Praise of Boring
In Condemnation of Exciting.
No, not a post about tunnels.
In a world with “breakthrough”, “watershed”, “transformative”, and “revolutionary” technologies emerging every hour of every day, the appeal of the new, the shiny, and the groundbreaking hijacks a human body wired for seeking dopamine hits that evolved in a far less intense environment.
I want to make a case for slowing all this down, for the mundane. In short, why boring is better.
Maintenance vs. New Build
One of the most significant areas where our society's inclination towards the “new” is tech, especially transport. New apps, devices, and platforms emerge at a pace that's impossible even for the coolest of cool-seekers to keep up with. New transport lines garner headlines and are usually money pits. But in our rush to embrace the latest and greatest, we often overlook the value of maintaining and perfecting what we already have.
Consider the analogy of a house. While it might be exciting to design a new home with the latest amenities, there's even more value in maintaining and renovating an existing structure, preserving the embodied carbon and labor (especially back when craftsmen were craftsmen) that went to make the thing in the first place.
Similarly, in the tech world, the obsession with new innovations often eclipses the need to digest, perfect, and exploit existing technologies. Older technologies that are well-understood can often be optimized to deliver performance and reliability that rivals or even surpasses newer alternatives. Have you ever worked with enterprise-level software. Do you think accounting software should have breakthroughs? No, I don’t either. But it would be nice if Concur were not so unusable.
Making the existing buses and trains run on time and more frequently is far less expensive than building a new line.
Needless Excitations of the Populous
Society’s continual excitation of the brain fosters a culture of short attention spans, where depth and nuance are sacrificed for the sake of novelty.
What was I saying?
Oh yes. The result? A population that is constantly on edge, always looking for the next big thing, and rarely taking the time to appreciate the depth and complexity of the world around them.
Productivity Growth and the S-Curve Process
The concept of the S-curve in technology deployment suggests that innovations typically go through a period of slow adoption, followed by rapid deployment, and eventual saturation. However, our current approach to productivity growth often fails to recognize this pattern.
Instead of allowing technologies to mature and reach their full potential during the saturation phase, we're quick to jump onto the next big thing. This premature transition can lead to missed opportunities, as we fail to exploit the full potential of existing technologies.
Opportunity Costs: A Two-Way Street
Lastly, it's essential to understand that opportunity costs work both ways. While some will claim" “opportunity costs” for not doing the new thing, I will retort “opportunity costs” for abandoning the existing prematurely.
By always looking forward, we risk overlooking the value of what's already in front of us.