You Get Blinded By The Hardware

by Mike Levin

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Beware. Your thinking is easily predisposed when you take up new information-soaked subject matter. Tech is very much one of those things. It’s rife with religion and dogma and loyalties and resistance to change.

And why not? Once you’ve bought or learned or deployed some tech, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether it will still be in style 10 or 50 years from now to continue to be supported and kept running. Or should you?

Is tech supposed to last forever to get the most out of your investments, or should tech due to its rapidly changing nature always be considered disposable? Maybe some tech is intended for a 2-year run so it doesn’t matter what you used because everything will get scrapped and rebuilt every few years anyway.

What about the employees and volunteers who went into making those platform-depended short-lived tech? What about those individuals who got into a field dominated by tools destined to change in 10-year cycles, like Adobe Flash? Or developers for a particular era phone or game console? Are such folks supposed to retrain, relearn and adapt?

If entire tool-sets get replaced every 10 years, and it takes about 10 years to master a master-able skill, then you master it just in time to be obsolete. Will seasoned individuals on their way to mastery forever be knocked back to equal footing with the latest crop of ambitious youth hopping on the new bandwagon?

The answer relies in the details of what tech skill sets you took up. It also depends on whether you fall in live with tools and enjoy the process of them fading into the background while your personal powers expand. Simple people gravitate toward particular tools and cumulative mastery while others can take up any tool and just use it a little while and move into the next later and be equally happy. These are 2 different vibes, and they respond different as platforms change.

Did you jump onto the bandwagon of some sexy new hardware and get excessively attached to those attributes of it bound to go away? Did you feel betrayed? Are you slow and weak on the uptake but strong in the long-haul like a D&D wizard? Do all the rules suddenly changing piss you off? And is it even worse because it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else? Maybe it was platform games to 3D. Maybe it was DOS to Windows. It’s always something and it’s always tied to evolving hardware tech trends.

That’s what happened to me with the Amiga computer. I fell in love with it. With her. It was an exquisite hardware platform and easy to fall in love with. They mythology of its creators is beautiful. The ties to the Atari hardware lineage. The development. The coprocessors had girls names and made the thing run smooth—far more smooth and slick than anything else of the day. The moderate success. It’s doom-sealed long-term fate by the very things that gave it a short-term boost. When it went away, I was crushed.

I am not the only one. Closet and not so closet Amiga freaks exist out there in great number, even to this day around 35 years since its invention, keeping it alive in the shadows and on keychains. UNIX on the other hand is older at over 50 and still big—very much mainstream and not in the shadows. Together with it’s progeny Linux, it’s the winning tech platform. It’s the one not driven by hardware. It’s the one with the “virtual machine”-like C programming language defended from the BCPL programming language that made the particular hardware ir runs in of much less consequence.

Bandwagons are often driven by hardware. Hardware will always improve. The move from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits continues. Hardware is what gets dropped into our hands and enables us—the smartphone, the laptop, the tablet, the game console. Our personal relationships easily get formed around particular clusters of atoms. We love our hardware years at a time. Interaction with particular hardware platforms defines phases of our lives. The Nintendo years. The Windows laptop years. And so on.

But these are the very things destined to change dramatically generation to generation, driven by Moore’s Law and other pressures. So any technical-like craft, such as using a text editor or particular language, will just change because the hardware changes? Should everyone with ambitions aligned to technical mastery of a craft still have to be exactly as dynamic as the competition and profit driven industry they got involved in?

What if musicians had to keep learning new instruments? What if athletes had to keep learning new games and equipment? It seems ridiculous, but that’s much the situation we have in tech with LAMP yielding to ASP yielding to ROR yielding to NODE. And that’s just Web Development. Are we in tech resigned to eternally have to be switching tools, techniques, habits, and junk any deep mastery we acquired over the years, denied the satisfaction of long term hardware-connected mastery enjoyed by athletes and musicians? Generally, yes.

Eventually hardware breaks down so bad it has to be replaced. But what if that old tech is just no longer available? What about all those processes that were running in the old hardware? Can you just never get it running again? That situation must be recognized beforehand and mitigated by decoupling the processes and data from particular hardware. Don’t fall in love with hardware. Hardware will forever let you down.

Maybe your code should be running in 50 years. Who’s to say not? Do you really even have much control over what code and where your code is running now, today? Do you even have code that you might want to run at this moment?

If not, let’s get you coding!

Either way, let’s predispose your thinking properly regarding particular instances of hardware and how you can make them less important to you than they tend to become. And if that sounds anthropomorphically cruel to you, let me remind you that laptop is not your baby. It’s factory base and replacing in every sense, except for the information that resides on it. It’s the information and how to make it come alive again that’s important, and not the particular laptop.