I had an imaginary fight with some bureaucrat and my killer line had something to do with the ability to write recursive algorithms. But I haven't written one in decades because in the ordinary course of my business, nobody can think of a purpose for their systems that might call for one.
I write custom code, but around a small universe of systems for which most of the creativity has been squeezed out. It's interesting to do balance sheet forecasting considering the effect of inventory on cash, but only for a short while.
This got me to thinking about who gets to write interesting code and for what purposes. Like who gets to write interesting books or music, you would be daunted by the mediocrity of the best-sellers. And this is a thing I keep seeing in social software.
Yesterday, I was actually bored enough to watch ABC news with Diane Sawyer, and there was a segment in which some Silicon Valley dude offered $100,000 for kids with ideas to skip college and go directly into business (with him). All predatory jokes aside, they interviewed a kid who built an electric car. An electric car, well - I never heard that idea before. There's lots of money in the idea of the new, but really. Does anybody actually believe that kid is going to get market share? Market share - especially the mass market, belongs to the big money. Big money grows monoculture. Big money social software expands monoculture.
Now think of all the social software you can. What does it do? It does very little, but it does do it in the same way all software does - by narrowing human focus into the range of interactions the programmers can come up with. In short, it runs you through a maze.
The interactivity of software is why using it is more mentally stimulating than watching television. I'd take a video game over a tv show any day. oftware does allow to interact but all the right actions are already known, and in some ways it's more restrictive than watching TV. If you are watching I Love Lucy, then you know there is a laugh track. If the joke isn't funny, you don't have to laugh. But with software, you have to interact precisely as the programmer wants you to or you don't get to the next level. Imagine not getting past the commercial break unless you laugh at Lucy's silly foibles.
In this way, even social software is close-ended. It gives you a transaction or two to generation and lets a zillion other folks see 'you' and your transactions. But you must transact to be seen. Social software is never so immersive as any sandbox video game, and never should be (unless you actually prefer There and Second Life to Facebook), but it still directs your attention. It seduces you into believing you are actually being social when you press its buttons, but what is 'social'? Social software processes the means toward shallow ends, like shopping, getting directions, going to a movie, clipping a coupon, getting something to eat. It's marginally more active than being a couch potato, but I say it's creating a new class of morons. Call them mombies. Mobile zombies.
It's Saturday. You leave the house but not without your e-leash. Heaven forbid you wander into some area where the houses have burglar bars, or even worse no signal bars. You need to occupy yourself and your social software tells you where you can find other mombies who are about your speed. You can follow and friend and like and tweet and yelp and google each other all day long. Mombie verbs, all in sentences with social as the adjective.
The programmer who sits next to me at work knows better. He spent three weekends putting down new flooring in his house. The programmer who sits across from me knows better. He installed race-quality rollbars in his convertible car. The programmer who sits across the way knows better. He went to catch some 8 foot waves. I think I know better, I finished two books last week. Call us anti-social. We've always called programmers anti-social. Maybe that's not such a bad thing to be considering what's called social.
The news is that Google stole the executive that Pay Pal wouldn't pay. So now Google is going to create a new market for the masses that makes that very important part of shopping their business. Google will never invent, nor need to invent something as useful as cash. But mombies will use this new fungible as they buy their Starbucks.
You need to know that there's money involved in all of this. People are figuring out another way to monetize your spare time. The advertizing dollars that once went into television commercials will be distributed to a new set of players in the interactive social software game. Slowly but surely all of the ads that are trapped in your TV will follow you in your mombie quests, so long as there are enough bars.
There will be better and worse social software, just as there are better and worse songs, books and movies. But what I see out there right now is pretty shallow, very seductive, and reflective of the same mass market appeal of television. So far, it ain't literature.