Computer Science · History

Progress Isn’t Always All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Decades ago I took my first computer science class on a Honeywell Sigma 6. It was a new installation. We lived through 30 minute response times, terminal time limits, multi-hour terminal waiting lists, and even staying at the terminal room overnight, sleeping in corners waiting for our turn at a terminal, to get enough terminal time to complete assignments. The Print Desk closed at 10pm so keeping one’s hard copy up-to-date on changes made was crucial. There were no 24 hour restaurants or cafes so we stayed awake on cold coffee bought hours before, vending machine coffee, or will power. It wasn’t unusual to show up to class two days in a row in the same clothes.

Fast forward to today where there’s more computing power in the 5 year old phone in my pocket than there was in rooms occupied by that old mainframe. The field of computer science has exploded. It’s driven advancements in every part of life. And, then, I decide to convert our old family website to WordPress. Granted WordPress is not a sophisticated choice of platforms. It might even be rightly considered a lazy one. But this is a hobby not a professional endeavor. So, meh.

WordPress is to website creation what Facebook is to journalism. With such amazing advancements in technology the fact that we’ve decided to use tech in such stupid ways is shocking.

Functionality has taken a backseat to adding glitz. “Close enough” is the motto of modern software development. Much of modern software is the equivalent of flimsy dollar store decorations: passable until the season ends after which it’s thrown away.

“OK,” you say, “but WordPress is free. You get what you pay for.”

Indeed. Walmart actually paid people to develop their website. It’s awful. PayPal paid people to develop their website; it is also awful. We’ve turned software development from a product made to fit the needs of its customer to prefab plastic parts that if we deform them just enough we can make something that’s just shiny and glitzy enough to distract the customer from seeing that it’s plastic junk.

Speaking of deformed plastic junk, it’s time for me to stop wasting time reflecting on why WordPress is what it is. As a culture, the US has embraced dollar store-ism. We’re satisfied with junk as long as we can get it quickly and cheaply. And, so, back I go to WordPress.

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