Fundamental Reconditioning



There is evidence–that I think most people are aware of at this point–that posting certain kinds of content on the internet is a sign of a narcissistic personality. Though I would argue that there is a certain breed of teenager that lacks the self-awareness to even know that this is arguably a bad thing. Duck faces in selfies are only a particularly visible manifestation of this weird tendency in today’s youth. A culture of young people brought up in the digital age without actually understanding what that means and being absolutely utterly clueless about how it all works.

Digital natives? Not a chance. Kids today don’t know how a computer works any more than grandma does. They know how to operate an interface. They understand how to swipe and to text and to post pictures. I have had students who had never actually realized that Clash of Clans is a computer program written by humans. Completely oblivious to the fact that computers are really stupid and need lots and lots of human hours by smart people to be made to do anything useful at all. Or anything entertaining. They don’t get this. When something goes wrong with their computer, they don’t know how to fix it.

One day, I had a drove of iPhone wielding sophomores eagerly awaiting new iOS version drop. Talking about how sweet it was going to be. The weird thing about this is that while I get that they were excited and had I an iPhone, I might have been excited as well, but I feel like we would have been excited for completely different reasons. They were excited because the icons were getting a makeover. The physical feel would be different. I would at least be able to temper my expectations with the knowledge that those sorts of changes are purely cosmetic. A software update is still just a software update. It’s just company doing its job, maintaining base code, expanding functionality, fixing security loopholes, or maybe introducing new ones for the government to exploit. It’s incremental. So what if the icons got a makeover? It’s still basically the same device with mostly the same functionality. What’s cool is the under-the-hood stuff. Or at least, it’s the stuff that I think is cool.

Lollipop gave the Android OS a new Java runtime which is arguably a huge step, but in the minds of everyone out there who has a Galaxy S5 holstered at his/her hip, it’s irrelevant. What do they care that apps will load faster or that ART has faster and less frequent garbage collection, or that it compiles to native machine code! They don’t. All they actually care about is that it seems different and maybe just a little better. Without the accompanything interface tweaks and reskins and the big Material Design push, they would not really be aware that anything had changed. It might feel smoother. It does feel smoother. But that would be it.

And arguably that’s the point. We build interfaces to sheild people from complexities. We as programmers build interfaces to sheild ourselves from complexities as well. It’s why we like frameworks. Frameworks keep us from rewriting the same boilerplate code every time we want to build a web page. Frameworks and IDEs increase efficiency dramatically, but they also make us lazy. Interfaces make us lazy. They make us forget (or not even be aware) that (for example) the tcp/ip stack is a monumental mess of poorly documented, convoluted spaghetti code. used to have a different theme that was written entirely by me in HTML, PHP, and CSS. It was really great in its heyday when I first built the blog, but it was time for a new interface. Something with a more modern look. And so I thought about building my own from the ground up again. But you know what? My heart wasn’t in it. So I used one of the WordPress defaults. And I don’t even feel bad about it.

Oh, sure I’ll customize it and put my banner ads back (which you people never click on anyway), and add personalized header bar and maybe some cool bootstrap stuff, but the underlying code will stay mostly as it is. I will save reinventing the wheel for another day. For another website. So it’s fine. I am being lazy. I am using an interface to get something done rather than putting it off. Am I no better than the selfie-posting teenager? Maybe a little bit. At least I have a bigger vocabulary.

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