s17e06: It’s not a hardware or software problem, dummy
0.0 Context Setting
It’s Thursday, 1 February in Portland, Oregon, and my study is a mess because I moved everything around. This was made slightly easier because I decided to get wheels for the standing desk I got at the beginning of the pandemic. WHEELS. Not for nothing are they considered a significant invention.
A very short one today, because I am remiss in the below announcement, and also because I have a much, much longer episode I hope to post tomorrow.
0.1 Hallway Track News
Hallway Track 007: Blocking is Good, Actually is tomorrow, Friday 2 February 2024, at 12pm Pacific, 3pm Eastern, and 8pm London.
Here’s the blurb:
While Twitter continues to implode, Bluesky and Mastodon are busy carving out their niches and Meta storms ahead with Threads, let’s talk about ways people might improve their experience on social networks, starting with blocking. We’ll talk about things like:
- what we can learn from fantastic products like Block Party (RIP);
- how blocking is or isn’t used as a content moderation signal in various social platforms’ recommendation algorithms;
- where blocking should be used as a content moderation signal to prevent post or account recommendation;
- are people actually using the block function? How much? And how or why might they use it more?
- reasons why platforms might have to hide or de-emphasise blocking;
- exactly how bad would it be (very bad) to gamify and incentivize blocking?
- how these topics might tie into the idea of a marketplace of content moderation providers.
What’s Hallway Track, if you’ve forgotten or I never told you?
Hallway Track is a series of free, ad-hoc gatherings, where we pretend to be in the hallway chatting with each other after a great conference session. It’s for small groups of only 25 people so it’s not too big people can’t talk and not too small there’s dead air; they run for 90 minutes; they’re not recorded, to encourage free conversation.
Register for Hallway Track 007: Blocking is Good, Actually and find out more.
1.0 Some Things That Caught My Attention
1.1 It’s not a hardware or software problem, dummy
So. Apple’s Vision Pro came out and of course there are a bunch of opinions and reactions. You’ll be excited to learn that this is not that!
Today’s thing that caught my attention is in response to a conversation with friends (hi friends!) about that Vision Pro, so, eh.
Phones are too good.
I mean, they’re really, really good, when you think about what their hardware does and what that hardware is capable of. That’s before you even get into all the computational-slash-AI-stuff.
Even the iPhone as it launched was too good! It didn’t even have copy and paste and still it was too good in terms of what it could do as a sorta-computer. Adding apps afterwards certainly helped, but you get my general thesis. These things are really, really good.
So 17 years later, we’re getting bored of phones. They’re very good. A recent thing people got super excited about was this Rabbit thing which is red, and that honestly is a thing to get excited about, which is also sad.
But Rabbit -- a hardware thing people got excited about -- was also something where people said: “hang on, isn’t the rabbit just... also software?” and the answer of course is “yes”, it is.
So maybe sure people are bored of things that are phones and want a thing that is better. In the case of Rabbit, it’s demoware promises of it being able to “do things”.
You know what would make phones a lot better?
I don’t think it’s the stuff like process shrinks enabling more perf-watt efficiency, I don’t think it’s higher density energy storage, I don’t think it’s removable batteries (but that would help!), or cameras, or LIDAR, or any more sensors, not really. Because all of those things have come up against a completely different limit.
You can’t process-shrink your way out of an economic and regulatory situation that prevents interop.
The thing that’s holding phones (and computer-type things) back isn’t the hardware and software, it’s not cross-platform developer frameworks, it’s that the economic environment incentivizes putting things in silos and not having any interoperability.
Rabbit and LLMs are a kind of symptom of this because they show the promise -- whether realized or not -- of being able to take tedious, siloed tasks that require a human to do, because humans are able to cross economic silo barriers across services that aren’t designed to work together, and, well, do them repeatedly and faster. They’re a hack, and as pointed out by others, a grossly inefficient hack from the position of energy efficiency.
The hardware’s fine. But software can only be as good as the economic system it’s embedded in. Which feels like “duh, of course”, but also as a shower thought, it felt somewhat deep.
Anyway, we hit that limit. Arguably we regressed once financialization crossed the warp 10 threshold, which explains all the “software and computers are getting worse, actually” takes.
Like a person much smarter than me (Hi, Erika!) said: the business models are the design constraints now.
And, to be clear this is not a rallying cry to move fast and break things. You don’t smash your way through these design constraints. It’s going to take a while, it’s going to be hard work, and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration and cooperation.
OK, that’s it! Still just a few places left for that Hallway Track tomorrow. If you’re on the fence you should come along!
How have you been?
How you can support Things That Caught My Attention
Things That Caught My Attention is a free newsletter, and if you like it and find it useful, please consider becoming a paid supporter.